As I See It – Is it safe to open the schools?

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By Elpidio R. Estioko

Last week, during the first campaign rally held by US President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after three months of political inactivity, he urged for the re-opening of the schools this coming fall despite 23 states reporting they have constituents found positive of COVID-19. As of this morning, CNN reported the number of states that surged is now 26. So, the virus is not slowing down, but kept on rising!

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, described this as a “disturbing surge” which is very alarming.

With the president’s pronouncement, many people, groups, educators, parents, and school administrators felt it is not yet time to do so, as the kids could become potential vectors for a deadly virus.

In fact, even his education tsar Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is not totally sold to the idea of the president although they are one by saying they leave the decision to the states at the local level. But, even then, local officials need to consider the safety of the children who are susceptible to the virus as indicated by a latest study that those below 20 years old are prune to the virus, just like the seniors.

My FB friends said they are against it! My fellow educators say it is not safe yet, and parents also said not safe to do it at this time.  In the school where one of my friends teaches, despite precautions they adopted with strict implementation of preventive measures such as temperature reading, information log, wearing mask, social distancing, and other CD- released guidelines, three of their staff members were found positive. So the school demonstrators had to sanitize the building where the staffs found positive work and imposed more restrictive measures to stop the spread of the virus in campus.

As reported in Politico written by Nicole Gaudiano and Juan Perez, Jr., when it comes to the details of reopening school buildings, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, like President Donald Trump, leaves decisions to the states.  President Donald Trump expects a full reopening of schools come fall but  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos isn’t so sure.

“I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed,” Trump said this week. And “there’s no question” American education should be “fully operational” by the fall… and students may very well be returning to a learning environment that’s a mix of in-person, online and experiential,” DeVos spokesperson Angela Morabito added.

Politico noted that “Trump’s path to reelection is closely tied to an economic recovery, which is inextricably linked to reopening schools so working parents can send their kids off after months of wrestling with at-home classes using packets of papers or limited virtual lessons and patchy technology. School leaders and parent groups say they don’t have clear guidance, money or means to throw open schoolhouse doors — while ensuring the safety of children crowded together on buses and in lunchrooms and the adults who supervise them. They want politicians to listen to medical experts.”

Trump acknowledges, in the same article, that older teachers may have to stay home for their health and he says it’s up to governors to make the call on whether schools should reopen. But their state is not open if the schools aren’t open,” he said Thursday. So, again, it’s had very little impact on young people, and I think they should open their schools.”

In our classrooms, we were advised to observe social distancing and seats and desks and computers should be spread at least six feet apart. In fact I am figuring out how my classroom will look like when our students will be back in school, which we still don’t know when.

Dr. Fauci warned that “the public needed to be cautious, particularly when it came to how the virus affects children, and pointed to a spate of cases of a rare inflammatory illness being reported in young children with potential links to the corona virus.”

Indeed, reopening schools is considered key to getting the economy moving again, but without a safe place for kids, many parents would have difficulty returning to work.

Contrary to the president’s suggestion, some education officials say opening schools quickly would bring major risk and little reward, especially since the end of the school year is approaching. “Are they going to reopen for two weeks? Three weeks?” said Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, “It’s not the right thing to do. Particularly when we’re involving the safety and welfare of our students.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said on CNN that it’s “way too early” to reopen his city’s schools, adding that “you don’t get a lot of credit for moving too quickly to reopen.”

Also, responding to Trump’s comments, one of the nation’s largest teachers unions The American Federation of Teacher said “there’s still much work to be done before schools can open safely…”

In the CDC’s draft guidelines for schools, the agency suggested a three-phase reopening process for schools in communities with “low levels of COVID-19 spread and those with confidence that the incidence of infection is genuinely low.” The guidance encourages schools to create isolation areas for students who develop symptoms. And if anyone with COVID-19 is found to have been in the building, it advises schools to shut down for one or two days to clean and disinfect.

In addition t this, schools are still looking for ways to limit student interaction as they reopen, including plans to bring only a portion of the students in at once, i.e. on staggered basis paced every one to two weeks.

Again, aside from the surge, there are a lot of things to be considered in reopening the schools which we can’t do in a short period of time. Opening the schools this fall? I don’t think so! It’s too early!

(ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedback, comments… please email the author at estiokoelpidio@gmail.com)

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