Concerns about returning to the classroom are growing amid rising coronavirus numbers. Envisioning the scope of the situation, is almost insurmountable. The two objectives, returning to school ‘safe and healthy’’ and ‘healthy at work’ almost seem like conflicting ideas.
According to the National Center of Education Statistics, more than one-third of teachers in the public school system are over the age of 50. In a report published in late April, statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated that 92% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States are people over 55 years old.
The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a non-profit organization that focuses on national health issues and the U.S. role in global health policies, found that 1.5 million teachers are at greater risk of serious illness if infected by the coronavirus due to pre-existing conditions.
The CDC has identified certain chronic conditions that place people at greater risk for serious illness if infected by the coronavirus. Such chronic conditions include diabetes, COPD, heart diseases, moderate to severe asthma, having a BMI of greater than 40, a compromised immune system, undergoing cancer treatments, or being over the age of 65.
According to the Lexington Herald Leader, three of five Fayette County public school board members, including chairwoman, Stephanie Spires, said they’re unsure if they can safely reopen schools. With increased cases and lack of rapid testing, she believes it can’t be done. A couple of those concerns included PPE and spacing to social distance. School buses are very close quarters and Spires said that 80% of school bus drivers in their school district are ‘at risk’ for infection.
Governor Andy Beshear announced on Monday that Kentucky has seen an increase in positive cases among children and staff connected to daycare centers. Though daycare centers aren’t part of secondary education, they provide statistics on COVID infections in children. “This is new data especially since daycare centers haven’t been reopened for that long.” said Beshear.
Beshear went on to discuss the importance of having the right rules and regulations in place so that Kentuckians can continue to plan for in-person education and be ‘healthy at work’. He noted the horrific numbers being seen in Florida and the efforts being made in Kentucky to prevent such strife and despair.
In a joint statement released last Friday by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, AASA, The School Superintendent Association, the organizations made recommendations on the safe return of students, teachers and staff to schools.
Pediatricians, educators, and superintendents realize the importance of getting back into the classroom. It’s not purely academic, it's socializing, receiving healthy meals, exercise, and so many services that can’t be duplicated by distance learning.
“Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”
While on Facebook, a group of Collinsville, IL, parents were discussing whether or not to send their children to school in the fall or home school. Safety for the children was first on the priority list with economics being the second. Parents are conflicted. Being able to go to work and make a living is essential to the family's livelihood yet they’re scared for their children’s safety.
School districts across the country are concerned with lack of funding and knowledge regarding best practices to protect children while in the classroom. Many are graveling with the need for PPE, technology for remote learning, extra training for staff, plexiglass partitions between desks, and creating enough space within the classrooms to provide proper social distancing.
The debate goes on nationally, regionally, and locally. It will be read in the newspapers and on the internet, watched on national news, and discussed on social media sites. Intellectually, we know that getting the economy growing again and getting back to work is key to avoid further financial distress. Emotionally, we want to protect our children and our families regardless of the financial toll. Working together to find solutions and realizing that the coronavirus is the enemy, not one another.