Last week, the School Committee voted to authorize a return to in-person learning sometime in April. The motion was in response to a petition that has been circulating around town for the last few weeks. The petition called for the district “to begin offering an In Person Learning Model to all students by no later than April 26, 2021.” The petition states that hybrid model would be acceptable, and that the district should continue to offer fully remote learning for families not ready to send kids back into the building.
I wish I knew how I felt about this.
As with so many aspects of this pandemic, it feels like there is both too much and too little information. I keep hearing that there is data indicating that schools are not a significant source infection, but these claims are either caveated with lots of statements about “assuming sufficient precautions are taken,” or they are being shouted by people who just really want kids to be back in school.
Is there data? Maybe. Is there a lot of motivated reasoning going on? Definitely. From what I can tell (and I am by no means any sort of expert), it seems like the data we have indicate that schools tend to mirror community spread. It is an easy jump from that statement to the claim that, if infection rates are low in your community, then the schools should be open. However, it seems like where the discussion bogs down is that the schools and the community are two parts of a whole, and that the virus spreading in one of those parts affects the spread in the other part, and vice versa.
I don’t see how we can look at our general community spread—which can only be considered low when compared to the catastrophically high levels across the entire United States—and say “Yep, we should re-open the schools.”
The other question I keep coming back to is what people actually mean when they say “re-open the schools.” For the folks circulating the petition in my town—despite the language in the petition about a hybrid model—I think they’re imagining something pretty close to what school was like for the kids on March 13 of last year. The reason I think that is that when they talk about it, they’re all about how kids need to be able to play with their friends and socialized and have a normal life.
That, however, does not at all match up with the “sufficient precautionary measures” caveats that the public health experts plaster all over their op-ed pieces. Masks, social distancing, staggered schedules, no recess, no lunch in the cafeteria—until we achieve drastically higher levels of vaccination and immunity, a day in school is going to be utterly unlike anything people tend to imagine when they think of kids in classrooms. Maybe that’s still better than our current situation—for a lot of families, that’s probably true, and maybe for mine too.
I don’t know—the whole thing seems terrible, and none of the options seems good. This pandemic SUCKS.