One Man’s Opinion: School Days, Rue Days...Dear I Am Confused Days

"There is nothing in the data that suggests kids being in schools is in any way dangerous," said the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Secretary Betsy DeVos during a recent interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News.

With all due respect Madam Secretary, I respectfully disagree, and we may all rue the day if we rush to get kids back in their respective classrooms and schools too soon to do things safely. Let's first get down to brass tacks. I think every parent and most every child want for their local, public, private, neighborhood, or church-based school to re-open.

But, like it or not, home rule will set the structure, agenda, class schedule, and rule book for schoolhouses across the nation this fall. The U.S. DOE, CDC, and various state departments of education have already released their guidance and guidelines, including in-person instruction, half-days, alternating days, online-only, online hybrid, and almost every combination in between. It’s a mess.

The City of Atlanta is postponing the start of ONLINE ONLY instruction to August 24th. Several north metro suburban counties will open schools with primarily in-person instruction as early as August 3. Griffin/Spalding County Schools are offering hybrid options and a start date after Labor Day. Pity the family with children in more than one school system.

Remote Learning challenges –

1. Technology gap - Home internet, wifi, or even a nearby reliable connection is not a given in many households, libraries remain closed, leaving restaurants, hotel lobbies, and other places not ideally suited for instruction for many families.

2. Further weakened immune systems - Socialization and interaction do actually strengthen the immune system, like a muscle, it actually weakens over-time with minimized use or exposure to outside elements. Think Bubble Boy.

3. Child abuse/unsupervised minors - One parent households, or homes with both parents in first responder, health care or front line jobs cannot continue to stay home indefinitely, potentially leaving thousands of school-aged children through late teens unsupervised and online.

4. Nutrition - In as many as 25% of Georgia households, the one solid, nutritional meal per day for hundreds of thousands of Georgia school children is a meal served at school.

In-School challenges –

1. Transmission of COVID19 - Though young children through pre-teen cases of the Corona Virus generally result in milder symptoms, there have been fatalities, lingering symptoms, and related severe and rare illnesses. For the medically fragile, childhood cancer survivors, or those with breathing disorders or a compromised immune system, the threat of the virus remains quite real. Asymptomatic children and teens may also carry the virus unknowingly home with them, or on a visit to see a grandparent, as well as transmit to school faculty and staff during dozens of hours together each week in enclosed spaces.

2. Older HVAC and physical plants - A/C systems in most schools are older and rely heavily on recycled air. As we learn more about this virus, we understand that microscopic virus droplets 'hang' in mid-air, when the air is cooled. Outdoors, hot air leaving our body rises into the atmosphere, but inside people walk right through our last breath or those droplets can be riding recycled cool airwaves right down our throat.

3. In-person/online hybrid instruction - Though the State of Georgia already offers certified and trained online academies and instruction in the high school, technical school and for many license certifications, much less online curriculum is available and standardized for elementary and middle school children, in part due to varying speeds of learning and shorter attention spans. But for the educator, it is far from easy or simple to lead a live tutorial or lecture online as well as children in the classroom on the same materials simultaneously.

My oldest child is a fourth-grade teacher in Gwinnett County. She is also in the midst of a high-risk pregnancy, carrying twin boys. Her OB and medical team have all advised her that she is also at high risk from this virus, as well as her unborn sons. Our youngest has asthma as well as a slightly compromised immune system. It is hard to imagine a safe classroom environment for either child, in the midst of an ongoing spike in COVID19 cases.

Yes, we all want kids heading back to school, but for now, until I hear or see Baron Trump or a DeVos, Jr. trotting off to class, perhaps with a Secret Service Agent in tow, we will keep our two under close supervision, with likely both schooling from home. Safety first.

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