Next month, a new school year will begin. In previous years, it was a time of uncertainty as parents had to acclimate their child to a new school––or to the school experience in general. This year, the mood of apprehension that defines this time of year is due to a fatal virus. On Friday, August 7, 2020 New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that schools across the state will be allowed to re-open. The governor pointed to the current low coronavirus infection rate as a factor in this decision. While at this moment re-opening schools appears to be possible, it could end up being unwise. This is cause for concern for parents and educators alike, with school-aged children being placed back in harm’s way.
New York City is no longer the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. This much is true. What is part of this equation that is forgotten is, the reason those numbers were able to be controlled was due to the schools being closed. Re-opening threatens to put the city and the state right back in the predicament that we were all in back in March and April. Considering how hard this state got hit, this decision is that much more surprising. After seemingly taking the lead in measures to stop the spread, this decision takes five steps backwards.
There are many logistical problems with an in-person school re-opening. How will you practice physical distancing in classrooms of 25 to 30 students? There is no discernible reason to believe that our typically overcrowded, and co-located school buildings in NYC won’t become hotspots of infection. Compounding the issue, is the shortage of adequate funding for cleaning staff and school nurses. What about needed funding to update the ventilation systems? When you have teachers making out wills before the beginning of the school year, it goes to show how real this public health threat still is to all of us.
If we look at some of the early data coming in where schools have re-opened around the country, it will give cause to reconsider. Two hundred fifty students and teachers from one school district in Georgia had to quarantine after only one week of in person school. One. Week. That scenario can easily replicate itself here. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, 97,000 children have tested positive for coronavirus in the last two weeks in July. So much for the notion that kids aren’t as vulnerable to this illness as adults. Those numbers don’t bode well for an in-person reopening without dire consequences.
When various states in the South and the West reopened May 15, many public health experts noted that it would yield more outbreaks. June and July is when this all materialized, and now the virus rages out of control in these regions with a thousand people passing a day. With 5 million confirmed cases and 160,000 deaths, it is horrid confirmation of what we have been warned.
This decision also flies in the face of the lived experiences of many residents of New York state. Have we already forgotten the educators and support staff that the Department of Education lost to the pandemic this past spring? According to the NYC schools website, the DOE lost 79 people to COVID-19.
After having to be pressured to close the schools initially in the spring, there is a lot of inconsistency in changing course just because the infections have been staved off. Knowing what we know now, it is dangerous to allow policy to be dictated by economic imperative while ignoring the science. Wishful thinking, will be of no use in this ongoing crisis.
Washington D.C. and Chicago public school students will be learning remotely this fall. Given the data and the facts as they are at this moment, there is ample reason to follow their example. At the very least, remote learning should be extended through the last four months of this year. Reopening the schools for in-person learning at this point is too high of a risk for the semblance of normalcy.
Marc Polite, is an author, political analyst, and social commentator from Harlem.