The Great Reopening Debate

I’m tired of the back to school debate. People treat this as if it’s black and white. I understand expressing nuance is difficult. We need to establish principles we can measure conditions against.

  1. What’s the community spread rate?
  2. Given an individual school building, can we keep kids 3 to 6 feet apart during learning, masked?
  3. Given an individual school building, can we keep kids 6 feet apart while unmasked and eating (without talking)?
  4. Does an individual school building meet ventilation guidelines that cycles air in the room the recommended number of times per hour?
  5. What’s the percentage of adult school staff who are fully vaccinated?

A basic algorithm made of these 5 factors should determine whether an individual school building should be able to open to full time learning.

While this essay is broadly applicable in many places, I’m basing this on my experiences in Massachusetts through the middle of March 2021.

Now, let’s discuss red herrings.

“We need to consider our children’s social and emotional need to be in school!” “We need to address our children’s mental health needs!”

If parents, politicians, government officials, and tax payers believed students’ mental health is important, a single guidance counselor wouldn’t be enough for 500 kids. We’d have a staff of a dozen professionals per school building. But we do not.

People ardently advocating for fully open schools, are not calling for increasing student support staff, such as counselors, social workers, and school psychologists as part of recovering from the pandemic and reopening schools. Prior to the pandemic, mental health difficulties were easy to find in schools, but insufficiently addressed.

“There are no children’s psychiatric beds!”

This has worsened during the pandemic, no doubt. However, no vacancy for children’s in-patient psychiatric care was a chronic and worsening problem before Covid.

In 2019, my wife helped a family whose children waited two weeks in an Emergency Department because there were no children’s psychiatric beds. Historical note: there was no worldwide pandemic at the time.

In Peabody, Mass., they’re considering an option for remote schooling for school year ‘21–22, according to a non-public source. Why? A block of kids, some with school-related anxiety, are thriving in this environment. There are children for whom traditional face-to-face schooling negatively impacts their mental health.

Let’s stop pretending that teachers are the enemy and start realizing they may understand what’s going on inside the schools they work in.

Teachers have endured generations of poor pay. Most spend their own money buying supplies for your children. Their unions, while not without faults, are frequently scapegoated. Teachers need us to have their backs—or at least take what they have to say about their own jobs seriously.

This pandemic is not over. One of the earliest-struck countries, Italy, has begun a new 3-week complete lockdown because they eased up too early. German doctors are calling for similar measures. Studies have confirmed that in-school spread is low currently. Why would we ease up on restrictions in school, which appear to be working, before vaccinations are implemented in most Americans, or at least all teachers?.

No one wants to be the last casualty of a war, just as no one wants to be the last victim of Covid when vaccines are available.

If you make an objective plan, based in science, around the 5 categories at the top of this essay, involving the teachers on the thresholds for each, they will be on board. They want to be back to full-time school as much as anyone else.

Their vantage point is better those from the grandstands, because they’re on the frontline.