With more than 5.5 million cases, 177 thousand deaths and some of the highest COVID-19 numbers in the world, the United States is in no position to open schools. But, around the nation, hundreds have opened.
US President Donald Trump pushed for reopening after most schools were forced to shut their doors for the duration of the last school year. The president encouraged many schools to open because children wouldn’t be hurt by the virus and needed to learn. Children “often have only mild symptoms, and medical complications are incredibly rare,” Trump said.
Schools were also part of a plan to re-spark a fire in the American economy. With students back in school, a massive part of the US economy would be restored.
Republican governors around the US have been quick to embrace Trump’s guidelines. But, school openings around the country have been disastrous.
OPEN THE SCHOOLS!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 4, 2020
General Issues Regarding Children and COVID-19:
Trump’s claim that children won’t get hurt from COVID-19 is untrue. In Florida, one of the latest COVID-19 casualties is a 6-year-old girl. Though it’s unclear if she had underlying medical conditions, a 9-year-old passed away from COVID-19 in Florida as well. She had no underlying health conditions.
For children who recover, the dangers aren’t over. A rare condition known as MIS-C can spark from COVID-19, primarily affecting children from the ages of two to fifteen. This condition can inflame blood vessels all over the body, making it difficult for vital organs like the heart and lungs to access enough blood. This condition has also caused paralysis and toxic shock.
If children are asymptomatic or recover fully from the virus, this doesn’t diminish their risk of acting as carriers. In this case, children spread COVID-19 to their parents, teachers or relatives. For children under five who showed moderate symptoms of COVID-19, a Northwestern University and Chicago hospital study found that these children actually have higher concentrations of the virus. This means young children could be the best carriers of the COVID-19. So, even if they aren’t being hurt, their loved ones will be.
The Massachusetts General Hospital confirmed this data, with an even bigger age pool. By testing children from age zero to twenty-two, researchers confirmed that children had higher viral loads than adults who were severely sick from COVID-19.
This problem only worsens with kids from low-income families. While wealthier families saw a 2% infection rate, low-income households saw a 51% infection rate in children. The lack of quarantine space and funds for medical treatment make COVID-19 more difficult to contain in low-income households.
In the 3 weeks since school started in Cherokee County, Georgia, three of the district’s six high schools have temporarily shuttered due to coronavirus outbreakshttps://t.co/YbmW3Qr2Mv
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) August 24, 2020
K-12 School Reopenings:
Though the CDC urged school leaders to weigh the benefits of in person leaning against the safety in the community, several schools in danger zones have pushed ahead with reopenings. Though Georgia was no way in the clear, the state reopened many schools in early August.
Photos from different Georgia schools were discouraging. Many students weren’t wearing masks and were being crammed from wall to wall. In several districts, hundreds of students have been forced to quarantine after coming into exposure with the virus. Entire classes, including teachers, are forced to stay home.
At Creekview High School in Georgia, students were asked to sanitize the school for volunteer hours, even though several students had tested positive that week. In the Cherokee County School District, teachers were promised abundant time to disinfect their classrooms and were told their classrooms would be deep cleaned daily. But, teachers rushed sanitation in five minutes and said the “deep cleans” didn’t even include wiping down tables.
Georgia isn’t alone in its fight. School reopenings around the country have been marred by poor sanitation and defiance.
One of the most unique problems with school reopenings is that in many areas, schools aren’t even required to report COVID-19 cases. To lower worry, many schools restricted their staff from informing other staff members or parents that they had tested positive. In Virginia, state law prohibits people from accessing COVID-19 case numbers at schools. This pattern is similar to some counties in Florida and Oklahoma. The lack of transparency in many states means parents can’t make appropriate decisions on whether or not they want to keep their kids home.
But, even with all of these challenges, some families need schools to reopen. For parents who work long shifts and can’t look after their children, schools are a safe haven. For those without access to strong internet or devices at home, school is a safe haven. Many students need to be back at school. The struggle continues on how that will be possible.
Effective immediately, we are asking undergraduate students who planned to live in our residence halls this fall to stay home and continue their education with MSU remotely. https://t.co/vMDZAcy5fc
— MSU (@michiganstateu) August 18, 2020
College reopenings are complicated. Though colleges have more funding and accommodations available than typical US public schools, it didn’t make their reopening plans any easier.
Even for colleges who reopened with strict re-entry plans, things aren’t looking great. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently experienced a massive surge in cases, meaning many students are going home. The school had a 13.6% positive COVID-19 case rate after only one week.
Colleges around the country are experiencing these issues. Notre Dame and Michigan State University (MSU) are two other large universities struggling with outbreaks after choosing to reopen. At MSU, a housing crisis has broken out after the university decided to suspend on-campus housing. Students and parents are struggling to understand what will happen to the housing loans they’ve already deposited at the university.
These failed reopenings have encouraged many colleges to roll back reopening plans. The University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, was one of many schools to roll back its reopening plan right before the school year. These sudden rollbacks have caused immense stress amongst college students.
Then, there’s the issue of money. Many top tier universities increased tuition, even though classes are going to be online. Students around the world are demanding tuition cuts. Without being on campus, many miss out on access to library resources, office hours and one-on-one time with professors.
College students are angry. For schools that have reopened, many complain that the decisions were made because schools wanted money, not student safety. For schools that are online, many students wonder how the online education experience is anywhere near the traditional campus experience and struggle to comprehend how they could be worth the same price.
Students aren’t the only ones struggling. College town communities are begging colleges not to reopen. In Massachusetts, Tufts University is pushing forward with reopening plans, even though residents in the surrounding communities of Somerville and Medford try to convince the college to reverse its plans. The influx of college students makes it riskier for everyone,
The co-chair of Our Revolution Working Group, Marianne Walles, went to protest the reopenings, “This is another example where Tufts administration does not care about the community around them and that they continue to make plans that could adversely affect our community and cause our residents to die,” she said.
Around the United States, teachers are struggling with a massive decision: should they go back to school?
Some are unafraid and willing to take the challenge. They hope that by being there for their students, they can provide a sense of stability. Most teachers want to get back to school, as long as it can be done safely. That means proper distancing, masks and sanitation. But as district plans rolled in, many realized opening schools safely during the height of the pandemic would be nearly impossible.
So, teachers around the country are turning in resignation papers. Many have underlying health conditions that make teaching impossible. Others have kids, spouses or relatives with medical problems. When given the choice between family safety and school, most choose family without hesitation.
But, it’s not as easy for some teachers. In Kansas, teachers have to pay their school districts to resign now. These teachers hoped that the virus would subside and wanted a chance to maintain their stable jobs. However, Kansas districts want time to find replacements, meaning teachers who back out of virtual learning could pay thousands in fines to the district.
For other teachers, there is no way to avoid going back to school. These teachers rely on their teaching income to support their families, so the firm line between family and school gets blurred.
Teachers who have gone back to school haven’t had it easy. Katie O’Connor, a fifth grade teacher, went on CNN to describe her saddening attempt to set up her classroom safely. O’Connor nearly cried as she described what the new, COVID-19 schooling era would entail.
“Kids aren’t leaving the classroom, at all, the whole day, they’re sitting in a desk,” O’Connor said, “as an educator, I know that’s not how kids learn. Kids need to move. Most of them learn by moving.”
Being cooped up in a room with kids all day isn’t great either, considering how effective children can be as COVID-19 carriers. Teachers have gone into quarantine with their classes. But, the White House recently declared teachers “essential workers,” meaning they could now be forced to teach even if they are infected. The implications of this new bill will become more apparent in the coming weeks.
For many students, school is more than just a place of learning—and there are very real burdens facing millions of American children and families if schools remain closed.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 20, 2020
Politics, Problems, and the Pandemic:
Given all the consequences we see now, how were schools allowed to reopen? In many cases, the problems were political. President Trump vouched for schools to reopen in an attempt to get the American economy up and running again. For a president who promised a strong economy, reopening schools was a good way to restart.
Governors agreed. Many struggled with protesting parents and wanted schools back in session to help their state economies. Many states had (and still have) to provide school districts money as they struggle through the pandemic. Federal funding might need to get involved soon as well if some districts are to make it past the first half of the year. There was a clear motivation for opening schools and officials thought safety measures would be enough.
Colleges were quick to agree, too. After all, universities around the country lost tons of money when students weren’t on campus, dorming and engaging with campus activities. Schools had to refund room and board and rely on endowments. They had to cut paychecks and raise tuition. So, many of them were eager to open too.
But amidst their self-centered focus on reopening, schools neglected to focus on what truly matters: the health and safety of students and faculty. Without taking proper safety measures, the downfall of school reopenings failed before it even started.
Now, the consequences are heavy.
Featured image via @nci on Unsplash