The school board in California’s Orange County voted 4-1 last week to open its schools in the fall — without masks or social distancing.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the board based its decision on a white paper which, among other things, dismissed distance learning as an “utter failure.”
The vote left the final decision to reopen up to individual school districts. However, KCBS-TV reported the white paper said that if a local school district “is unable or unwilling to reopen schools in a manner that resumes a typical classroom environment and school atmosphere, parents should be allowed to send their children to another school district or charter school that will provide that preferred education.
“In fact, many parents stated they will opt for private schools or homeschooling if their child does not have a typical interactive academic classroom environment,” the paper continued.
However, the paper also stressed the importance of taking precautions.
“The experts advised regular temperature checks, encouraged ‘good hygiene with frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer,’ as well as the cleaning of classrooms, meeting rooms, buses and administrative offices nightly,” KCBS reported.
This being Orange County, the school board is a conservative one. Even with that, the victory for parents and educators who felt the science said it was time for students to return to the traditional classroom environment was surprising in its totality.
For instance, masks won’t be required. KCBS reported the experts who authored the white paper wrote that getting students to wear masks “is not only difficult but may even be harmful over time.”
As for social distancing, the authors wrote that “social distancing of children and reduction of classroom size and census may be considered, but not vital to implement for school-aged children” and that parents “are in the best position to determine the education environment that best suits their children rather than government officials.”
The white paper was authored by an 11-member panel appointed by the Board of Education last month, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Our constituents expect leadership from us, and so we wanted to present information to you,” said Board of Education Vice President Mari Barke, according to the newspaper. “These are simply guidelines to be looked at and to follow according to what’s best for your family — take it for what it is and do what you’re most comfortable with.”
Orange County Department of Education Superintendent Al Mijares said the “recommendations are not binding.”
“There has been some confusion, and understandably so, over the role of the OC Board of Education and our agency, the Orange County Department of Education,” he said in a statement, according to KCBS.
Here’s what there isn’t confusion over: Online learning, at least in the haphazard form it’s taken since the coronavirus pandemic struck, isn’t working.
In Los Angeles, a third of the students hadn’t even logged on to class by the end of May, according to KTLA-TV in Los Angeles.
Part of this is due to an additional set of challenges for low-income students who don’t have access to reliable digital equipment or Wi-Fi. Beyond that, there’s the complete lack of accountability that distance tends to breed.
“Educators say that some students and their parents have dropped out of touch with schools completely — unavailable by phone, email or any other form of communication — as families struggle with the broader economic and health effects of the coronavirus outbreak,” The New York Times reported in April.
Beyond this is the obvious: In-person instruction is far better than online instruction, and the longer this goes on, the more likely it is we’ll have an entire set of young individuals who don’t have the same educational toolset others they’ll be competing with have.
They won’t just be behind on mere information, either — socializing and normalcy are two things students need in these trying times, particularly with isolation and depression on the rise, This isn’t even mentioning the issues parents with jobs will face, particularly single parents who rely on in-person schooling as a form of day care so they can put food on the table.
But what about the risks? According to Reuters, after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos suggested that the risk to children from the coronavirus was low, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “What we heard from the secretary was malfeasance and dereliction of duty.”
“Let’s show that we put children first, and their education, by putting the resources there. Because without the resources, we shouldn’t even be thinking about sending them back to school,” Pelosi said in a different appearance, according to The Hill.
That’s what they’re doing, though — at least according to Dr. Scott Atlas, a Stanford neuroradiologist and Hoover Institution fellow.
“Of course, we can [reopen schools]. Everyone else in the world and the Western world, our peer nations are doing it. We are the outlier here,” Atlas told Fox News on Wednesday.
“If you believe in science, science says that 99.97 percent of deaths in the United States are in people over 15, 99.9 [percent]are people over 24. The hospitalization rate for influenza according to the CDC is much greater than from COVID-19 for children.”
As for the children passing the disease on to high-risk individuals, Atlas noted half of the K-12 teachers in America are under the age of 41 and 82 percent were under 55. As for parents, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume they’re within this window, too — given the age of their children.
“These are not high-risk age groups. We know this by now,” Atlas said.
“You either believe the science or not. You can’t insist you believe in science and then act contrary to science.”
Odd, that. The groups that most loudly talk about science — usually stylizing it as “science!” and trotting Bill Nye out to make the point if it really requires that extra whack — have mostly allowed their sympathetic nervous system to take over and have loudly opposed school re-opening on the basis of fear, even though returning children to school is a relatively uncontroversial issue in most of the rest of the world.
There’s a lesson parents ought to learn from this, which Orange County’s group of experts pointed out in their white paper.
“Among the many compelling expert arguments for reopening our schools, a number of us were also struck by something different, something we might call advice for adults,” the paper stated (page 19).
“Among our greatest responsibilities as adults is our responsibility to model courage and persistence in the face of uncertainty and fear, which is what many families are feeling with the mixed messages and confusion surrounding reopening of schools in the COVID-19 era.”
We’ve failed at that so far. There’s no reason to keep failing.
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