Reopening Schools Safely

Parents and educators have for months now pondered about is it safe or not for schools to reopen this fall during the COVID-19 virus. State and local officials have labored to balance competing priorities and answer complicated logistical, educational, and public health questions. For the complete safety of students, and educators, I would think that science must drive these decisions. The present administration should have been providing resources and many types of assistance to local leaders that would assist them implement social distancing, provide personal protective equipment, and plan for a safe reopening, We certainly know that has just not happened.

The failure of the present administration in responding to COVID-19 has left schools in a position no better than when they closed in March and April. When you really take a close look at the statistics with cases approaching some 4 million, deaths reaching near 140,000, and the rapidly rising infection rates, it may well be worse. No country in this world has as many new cases per million residents as the states of Arizona, Florida, and South Carolina.

These public health failures are compounded by education failures. The Secretary of Education has absolutely refused to ask Congress for increased resources for states and school districts, and the Secretary has basically ignored continued requests for additional reopening guidance. This same Secretary of Education has frantically  moved funding to private schools and thereby created a voucher-like competitive grant program.

Science, not politics should drive any decisions about how to implement the reopening of schools. This should include the best science on controlling the spread of COVID-19 as well as keeping children, their families, and school staff safe and at the same time making sure that the science of learning and development for children is also kept safe.

There are some key points that should be taken into consideration before opening schools for this academic year: (a). Establishment of an ultimate goal of returning safely to in-person instruction based solely on public health data. (b). Make physical reopening decisions based on local health conditions and school-specific information. (c). Create a comprehensive plan for remote learning that includes plans for full-time remote learning and hybrid methods.

As state and local leaders assess these conditions, the federal government must definitely designate much funding to meet the added needs of schools during the pandemic. Schools are in need of not only cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment for students and staff, but also expensive upgrades in ventilation systems and other changes to physical infrastructure that is very necessary in order to insure that students and others are safe.

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