Fall Forecast: School Chaos Coming

This Washington Post  article, “Trump pushes schools to open in the fall, downplaying risks as virus spreads,” in my view seriously understates the convergence of tensions rapidly approaching panic among many of the stakeholders involved:

> depression-strapped school districts lackIng funds to pay teachers;
> legions of teachers are angry & resistant about facing life-threatening classroom conditions of chronic exposure;
> many parents feel the same anxiety for their children;
> teachers & parents of color fear they & theirs will be left in the lurch, again.
> Congress is out to lunch almost continuously through Labor Day, then will quickly be off campaigning til past Halloween . . .

Washington Post: “Making his case for a return to normal, Trump repeatedly played down the rising number of coronavirus cases, saying treatments and vaccines are coming soon. He said there are only more cases because the country is doing more testing, a point health experts dispute.
A statement from two teachers unions and four other school associations said they, too, want to return to the classroom but that it must be done with safety, not politics, in mind. They also said funding is needed to cover protective equipment and other expenses.
“The White House and the CDC have offered at best conflicting guidance for school reopening, and today offered little additional insight,” the groups said.
On Wednesday, the American Federation of Teachers planned to begin airing a $1 million digital and TV ad buy, urging additional federal funding to help reopen schools.
Many university faculty members have raised questions about whether reopening plans will accelerate the spread of the virus and pose risks to public health. In response, colleges are requiring students to wear face coverings and submit to virus testing.
On Monday, Florida fell in line with the Trump approach, though coronavirus cases in the state are rising. Florida’s top school official ordered all schools in the state to reopen buildings for in-person instruction this fall. Hybrid models, as many Florida districts have proposed, are allowed, but schools must offer full-time instruction five days a week for families who want it.”
“Parents have to get back to the factory. They’ve got to get back to the job site. They have to get back to the office. And part of that is their kids, knowing their kids are taken care of,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.. . .

“We cannot simply focus on virus containment at the expense of everything else,” said Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at HHS.

Betsy Devos

The confidence projected from the White House stood in contrast with the angst in many local districts working to develop plans for the fall. Most big cities and many others are developing hybrid models that alternate days in the building and days at home to minimize the number of students present at any given time.
Those models are being developed in part to comply with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends “enhanced social distancing” in buildings. For instance, the CDC recommends that desks be placed at least six feet apart, something that might not be possible if all students are on site.
Administration officials did not address these hybrid plans directly, though Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that schools “must fully reopen and fully operate this school year.”. . .

Making his case for a return to normal, Trump repeatedly played down the rising number of coronavirus cases, saying treatments and vaccines are coming soon. He said there are only more cases because the country is doing more testing, a point health experts dispute.
A statement from two teachers unions and four other school associations said they, too, want to return to the classroom but that it must be done with safety, not politics, in mind. They also said funding is needed to cover protective equipment and other expenses.
“The White House and the CDC have offered at best conflicting guidance for school reopening, and today offered little additional insight,” the groups said.
On Wednesday, the American Federation of Teachers planned to begin airing a $1 million digital and TV ad buy, urging additional federal funding to help reopen schools.
Many university faculty members have raised questions about whether reopening plans will accelerate the spread of the virus and pose risks to public health. In response, colleges are requiring students to wear face coverings and submit to virus testing .. . . “

But other close observers have a very different Forecast. Blogger  Yves Smith in Naked Capitalism points out that some other countries have reopened schools with apparent success. But

Yves Smith (aka Susan Webber) blogger at “Naked Capitalism.”

China and other countries that got their infections down have reopened their schools, and they have stringent processes to protect teachers and students. Obviously specifics vary but they include sanitizing shoe bottoms and sometimes backpacks and clothing (with a disinfectant spray), temperature checks, issuance of new masks or face shields, plastic barriers at each desk and seat in the lunch room, required hand washing or sanitizer use when changing classrooms, cleaning of the desk and doorknobs between classes (often by some students supervised by a student monitor). It is easy to see snowflake American parents objecting to having backpacks and clothing sprayed with disinfectant.

A second problem in the US is that a big rationale for school reopening is free parents from daytime child-minding so they can go back to work. But what happens when a student fails a temperature screening and should be sent home? Or a child has been in close contact with someone at school who tests positive for Covid-19?
My understanding of the normal practice in countries that do contract tracing well is that they require the exposed person to quarantine until a Covid-19 test comes back. It’s not hard to imagine some parents rebelling when schools refuse to allow children who’ve been exposed and haven’t yet gotten test results to come to class.

A dirty secret of the old normal is kids would regularly go to school when somewhat sick because their parents would have trouble at work if they skipped out to tend for an ill child, and some parents don’t think a mild ailment justifies missing a school day. So the US hostility to sensible policies like paid sick leave results in pressure on teachers to instruct children even when it would be better from a public health standpoint to send them home. And that is going to produce yet more contagion risk.

COMMENT: Take these elements, stir in a mega hurricane or two, add rightwing populist anger over football cancellations, then marinate for eight weeks in rancid campaign rhetoric, and who doesn’t see a perfect social/political/cultural storm brewing just over the horizon?

Oh — and if the virus numbers are still spiking  . . . .

6 thoughts on “Fall Forecast: School Chaos Coming”

  1. I could swear that students could study with independent online schools (which many homeschoolers use) and the school district has to pay for it? And, yes, there are secular school.

    Comment??

    1. As usual, those will the least will suffer the most.

      9 million children in the US lack internet access.

      Those with the greatest educational needs are likely to have parents who cannot afford not to work.

      Our system of great economic inequality is raising its ugly head. And taking lives, present and future.

  2. “We cannot contain the virus at the expense of everything else.” (Elinore McCance-Katz) Really? Remember the people who spread the rumor that Obama era health care plans that would allow a patient and physician to plan for death, and have that service paid for, were forcing “death panels” on us? I’ll bet some of the same people are among those now saying, in effect, that some deaths are negligible fallout from opening up schools and the economy. Shameless!

  3. Our country decided long ago that killing people slowly, or at least out-of-sight, through economic inequality amplified by embedded racism is just fine, thank you, no need to upset the apple cart.

    “Our country” includes Friends. We’ll get out there (in small numbers) to protest a pipeline. But protest the system that year-after-year kills more people than the pipeline will kill? Leave our comfortable middle-class lives behind to work toward preventing more deaths annually than the US lost in the Vietnam war? Our answer is letter writing after meeting.

  4. More cases only because of more testing is not a proposition that health experts “dispute.” It is a proposition they have definitively refuted…with data and logic.

  5. Throw in this wrinkle. My husband and I are the Host parents of a young Afghani student that is going to a Friend’s Boarding School. Normally he stays with us just during Schoolbreaks but has been with us since Springbreaks as the school was closed due to Covid 19. The school had a rigorous online class program and it worked very well. Now we are worried that the new restrictions by the Trump government on online classes for international students will put his student visa at risk. At this point the school is planning to start on campus classes again in August, but who knows what the situation with the pandemic will be at that time.

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