After a truncated school year and a summer that has been robbed of the normal cultural milestones, it is almost difficult to believe that the new school year is upon us. Yet upon us it is and school districts all over the state are releasing their plans to open.
The science and public opinion overwhelmingly support opening schools with in-person instruction with reasonable precautions to mitigate the spread of disease. The Centers for Disease Control said, “The unique and critical role that schools play makes them a priority for opening and remaining open, enabling students to receive both academic instruction and support as well as critical services.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.”
The vast majority of people agree. According to a recent AP-NORC poll, 68% of Americans think that schools should have in-person instruction with some changes to lessen the chance for spreading diseases. The myriad surveys that local school districts conducted came back with even stronger preferences with as much as 88% (West Bend) wanting some form of in-person school instruction.
To their credit, every public and private school and school district in Washington County responded accordingly and is opening with a plan that includes in-person instruction. Some plans are better than others. The West Bend School District is offering in-person, virtual, or hybrid models so that each family can choose what best fits their situation and risk tolerance. The Germantown School District is offering an in-person or virtual model, but the in-person model for high schoolers is a goofy alternating schedule that wreaks havoc on family schedules.
Still, the schools in Washington County will be open for education and that is to be commended. It demonstrates that education truly is a priority when so many other schools across the state and country are choosing to eschew their duty to educate the adults of tomorrow. Opening our schools is not only vitally important for the education of our kids, it is also imperative for their social and emotional well-being.
But we must gird ourselves for the inevitable outbreak of COVID-19 when our schools open. Every parent knows that some sniffle or cough will ravage their household within a couple weeks of school opening every year. It is the unavoidable outcome of the commingling of hundreds of humans with questionable hygiene. The implementation of social distancing, thorough sanitation, masks, shields, and limited or coordinated movement will surely reduce the spread of disease, but nature has a way of finding holes in any defense. There will be outbreaks of various contagious diseases and, undoubtedly, one of those will be COVID-19.
Davy Crockett was fond of saying, “Be always sure you are right, then go ahead.” That is the attitude we will need from our school leaders and parents when outbreaks happen. The science is sound. Our kids need to be in school and they cannot afford to miss any more. The risk of kids suffering severe harm from COVID-19 or spreading it is low. The short- and long-term educational, emotional, and social harm our kids will suffer if they miss more school is immense.
When the outbreaks come, and they will, we must not panic. We must act, but we must not panic. And when we act to isolate the infected and mitigate the spread, we must do so with the overarching goal of keeping our schools open.
The schools must open. They must stay open. We are sure we are right. We must go ahead.
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