Ever since the Covid-19 hysteria began in March, Virginians have learned to dread their governor’s press conferences.
With good reason. One week it’s no sitting on the beach. Next it’s no loud music. Then, a mask mandate.
Who knows what the governor has in store for us this week. He’s expected to make some sort of proclamation about schools at a presser tomorrow.
Working parents – you know, those whose jobs have not vanished thanks to Ralph Northam’s shutdown – want to hear that schools will reopen, fully and as scheduled in the fall.
So they can return to work. So their kids don’t miss even more classroom instruction.
If history is any predictor, Northam will slow-walk the reopening of schools just as he’s slow-walked the reopening of the commonwealth. Chances are kids may be going back to school in some sort of dystopian world where they attend in shifts, commute on mostly empty buses, wearing masks and physically distanced in class by teachers waving around pool noodles.
I hope I’m wrong.
Locally, educators are talking about some sort of cockamamie scheme that involves 50% of the kids going to school for two days, the other half going the next two days and on the fifth day, the kids can rest from this exhausting schedule while the teachers get to work on lesson plans. On the days they aren’t in school, the students will have online classes.
Geez, what could possibly go wrong? Here’s one: Children with learning disabilities will be lost. Perhaps permanently. If the governor forces any plan on Virginia that does not have kids in classrooms five days a week, parents of disabled kids should sue to force the schools to open.
As the parent of a child with profound learning difficulties I could write a treatise about how virtual learning for my child would have meant NO LEARNING at all had schools shut down when he was young. His IEP required one-on-one time with learning specialists daily. Plopping him in front of a computer for remote learning would have led to failure and frustration.
There seems to be almost universal agreement that closing American schools was an unmitigated disaster. The Wall Street Journal published a scathing piece last week, “The Results Are In For Remote Learning: It Didn’t Work,” that claimed from coast to coast online classes were a bust. Some children didn’t even have internet access and many more didn’t have supportive parents. Some children simply couldn’t learn online, others just drifted away and lost interest.
Preliminary research suggests students nationwide will return to school in the fall with roughly 70% of learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year, and less than 50% in math, according to projections by NWEA, an Oregon-based nonprofit that provides research to help educators tailor instruction. It expects a greater learning loss for minority and low-income children who have less access to technology, and for families more affected by the economic downturn.
This is unacceptable. Especially when faced with the fact that the seasonal flu poses a more serious danger to children than Covid-19 and we don’t close schools for that. Virginia averages three pediatric flu deaths a year. So far, there have been no Covid-19 fatalities to anyone under the age of 20 in the entire commonwealth.
If one sector of society ought to be reopened immediately it is schools and youth sports. Of course, parents concerned about their child’s safety can keep their offspring home.
Every teacher I’ve talked to said virtual classes were riddled with problems. Kids checked out, failed to turn in assignments and eventually didn’t even bother responding to emails from their teachers. Especially after it was announced that work wouldn’t be graded.
Sure, highly motivated students stayed on track. Especially the ones with involved parents. But it’s not those kids we should be fretting about. It’s the children from homes with more TVs than books, whose parents are addicts, absent or abusive. Kids who have difficulty learning even during a normal school year.
One of my friends, who teaches in a Virginia Beach Title 1 elementary school, told me she is more worried about her pupils than she is about the virus.
“These kids need school,” she told me via email. “I’m so sad for my students and worried about their well being. Their parents are overwhelmed. We could lose countless students who will never catch up.”
Oh, and fears that children are asymptomatic “super spreaders” who could make their teachers sick seem to be unfounded. According to a recent study from Australia, children have far lower infection rates than adults, lower viral loads when they are infected and their transmission rates are less than 1 percent. In fact, the researchers couldn’t find a single case of a student infecting a teacher with the coronavirus.
Still, if teachers fear for their own health they should take sabbaticals until the virus goes away or a vaccine is available. Schools can hire long-term substitutes to take their places.
If subs are in short supply, the state should relax certification requirements for this school year and allow those with smarts and expertise but no teaching license to step into the classroom.
It’s time to honestly weigh the dangers of reopening schools against the long-term ramifications of poorly educated students.
That’s easy. Reopen Virginia schools.
Originally published at the excellent blog Kerrydougherty.com