There is really nothing good to say about closing public school campuses throughout the United States and keeping many of them closed for the foreseeable future.
As a teacher these days, you do your best to keep students engaged and learning through the screen of a computer and the spasms of their internet conductivity and you try to lift their spirits when they feel down, which is almost all the time. You lie awake and imagine some version of school that could be held in person without assisting this virus in its sinister mission. You think about the president and his flunkies and their disappointment in you for not being in the classroom so that students can be where students belong.
And you suspect that a lot of other Americans share in that disappointment, whether they admit it or not — including working parents who wonder why, if hospital workers are risking their lives in the pandemic, teachers aren’t.
Why wouldn’t we meet this pandemic head-on? Even under normal circumstances, we expose ourselves to all manner of viruses and bacterial infections in classrooms full of kids sent to school with runny noses and fevers.
If schools reopen, will students return?
Covid-19, of course, is far more lethal than the usual bugs that try to wreak havoc in our old teacher bodies. But perhaps there is some acceptable level of teacher mortality. And even student mortality. Isn’t there always a calculation? How much Gross Domestic Product and employment are worth how many of us?
Then there’s the other calculation—how many deaths will be caused by the continued shuttering of school campuses? What would be the cause of those deaths? Suicides and drug overdoses from depression caused by isolation? Kids are pretty depressed lately, but they might feel even more depressed when they find out they and their families and their teachers are expendable.
Oklahoma teacher: I was a reluctant Trump voter. Coronavirus is the end of my Republican identity.
So what is likely to happen if we return to campus with only minimal safety measures?We may not have to worry about crowding. I surveyed a class of summer school. Most said they would not attend in-person school until the crisis subsided. Even if the school district offered a hybrid model with only 12 students in a classroom and everyone masked, they would still stay home.
If that is any indication, then proclaiming kids need to be in school is no more useful than proclaiming we need to get the virus under control.
Of course my summer school survey represented a very small sample and, perhaps, not the most committed students to begin with. So perhaps we would be able to crowd those classrooms and hallways in “fully open … fully operational” schools, as President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recommend.
And how would that go?
Some kids will get the virus and miss school for weeks. Some for months. For them returning to in-person instruction will probably not improve their education but perhaps some children will either not get the virus or have only mild symptoms and perhaps all the illness around them won’t be too big a distraction or emotional burden.
COVID trauma could haunt kids
A statistically insignificant amount of children will die. Did I just say “statistically insignificant” and “children will die” in the same sentence? Insignificant only if they are not your children or your students or your friends. If they are, such fatalities will be devastating. They could also cause an exodus from the school and erode trust that is foundational to educating kids.
Teachers will get the virus and be out for weeks and months, leaving kids with substitutes.
Some teachers will die, and that will traumatize students and school communities, and schools will lose some of their most experienced and hard to replace educators.
Students will bring the virus home and infect parents and grandparents. Some of those parents and grandparents will die, and the trauma of having caused that death could haunt the children the rest of their lives.
NEA president: Trump’s plan to reopen schools is dangerous for students and teachers
Perhaps the Trump and DeVos exhortations about “opening” schools are political posturing and not meant to be followed. After all, why would they want to be responsible for what happens if someone actually follows their orders? Perhaps they just don’t care about other people’s children at all. Did I say perhaps?
If you have any doubt about whether they care about children (I mean yours and mine, not their own), then consider their threats to federally defund schools that don’t comply. Federal education funds are directed at students whose families live below the poverty line along with students with disabilities. Those funds are used to feed hungry children, something most school districts have done consistently throughout the pandemic. Those funds are used to provide internet connectivity and electronic devices to students who cannot afford the necessities of online learning.
These are for the most part empty threats, given that the president and his Education secretary have limited authority over school funding. But the question remains: What are they thinking? Because it sure looks like they are trying to starve children — physically and intellectually — out of their homes and onto campuses unable to protect them from a virus that might not kill most of them, but would ravage their families and communities.
Larry Strauss, a high school English teacher in South Los Angeles since 1992, is teaching summer school remotely for Venice High School students. He is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and the author of more than a dozen books, most recently “Students First and Other Lies: Straight Talk From a Veteran Teacher” and, on audio, “Now’s the Time” (narrated by Kim Fields). Follow him on Twitter: @LarryStrauss