As September Approaches, “Do We Have Any Business Returning Anyone To School?”

NJLB has been hearing much from parents, teachers, and administrators regarding the risk/benefit ratio of opening schools for in-person instruction in spite of coronavirus; the potential loss of learning and widening of achievement gaps if schools stay closed, particularly for low-income students; the challenges of navigating this stricken landscape with only the most cursory guidance from the New Jersey Department of Education. (Also see here and here.)

Here are the thoughts of Laura Beverage of Medford. It first appeared as a letter to the editor in the Asbury Park Press.

I have been reading the host of letters arguing both sides of the current return to school issue, and wanted to write something in response that included questions someone asked me to consider.

Here are some tough questions posed by a retired administrator, which I have been given permission to share.

  • If a teacher tests positive for COVID-19 are they required to quarantine for two to three weeks? Is their sick leave covered, paid?
  • If that teacher has five classes a day with 30 students each, do all 150 of those students need to then stay home and quarantine for 14 days?
  • Do all 150 of those students now have to get tested? Who pays for those tests? Are they happening at school? How are the parents being notified? Does everyone in each of those kids’ families need to get tested? Who pays for that?
  • What if someone who lives in the same house as a teacher tests positive? Does that teacher now need to take 14 days off of work to quarantine? Is that time off covered, paid?
  • Where is the district going to find a substitute teacher who will work in a classroom full of exposed, possibly infected students for substitute pay?
  • Substitutes teach in multiple schools. What if they are diagnosed with COVID-19? Do all the kids in each school now have to quarantine and get tested? Who is going to pay for that?
  • What if a student in your child’s class tests positive? What if your child tests positive? Does every other student and teacher they have been around quarantine? Do we all get notified who is infected and when? Or because of HIPAA regulations, are parents and teachers just going to get mysterious “may have been in contact” emails all year long?

Many people who have written in support of returning to school focus only on the children. Thirty percent of the teachers in the US are over 50. About 16% of the total deaths in the US are people between the ages of 45-65. What about the teaching assistants, guidance staff, custodians, cafeteria staff? How will they be protected?

Yes, returning to school does have to be considered.  But the discussions will be long, arduous, and detailed.  If the questions like the ones posed above cannot be answered, then we have no business returning anyone to school.

What do you think?

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