Education is the Canary in the Coal Mine

In earlier days, coal miners would carry caged canaries down into the mine with them to see if dangerous gases like carbon monoxide had collected in the mine. The gas would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning that the mine was not safe to enter.  Source: Smithsonian Magazine.

Everyone wants schools to reopen safely.  Parents want to return to work. Children miss their friends, want to resume face to face learning, and are looking forward to going outside to play and exercise. Classroom educators miss their students and know that face-to-face education is far more efficient and far more effective than distance learning. Businesses want their employees to return to work to get the economy moving again. Everyone wants to get back to life as it was. Nobody disagrees with the goal. But nobody wants children or educators to die because schools reopen. President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have politicized the return to school by threating schools and states with a loss of federal funds if schools do not reopen. I understand why. In order to get the country and the economy moving, we need parents back in the workforce. But there are too many unanswered questions.

  • Will all student and adult entry to the school require a temperature check?
  • Will all adults and students in the building require a daily/weekly COVID test?
  • What are the protocols if students or adults in the school test positive?
  • Will alternative child daycare be available? Will it be available for teachers who are also parents?
  • Schools have lacked adequate funding for school supplies. Since schools are unable to supply necessary learning tools like pens, paper and pencils, will teachers have to supply adequate health supplies like PPE, cleaning supplies and Clorox wipes?
  • How can we expect children to sit at their desks for 7 hours a day?
  • Will teachers have to use their own sick leave if they need to quarantine due to exposure?
  • Where will we find substitute teachers to replace someone who is ill or in quarantine?
  • How do parents with multiple children at different grade levels provide for children in a hybrid environment?
  • If class size is 20 to 30 children in a class and the school/state require social distancing, how will get the rooms and teachers for the excess numbers of children?
  • Who will watch the children of teachers if their children are not on the same schedule?
  • How do we deal with young children wearing face mask for an entire school day?
  • What happens to the children of educators when their parents have to quarantine?
  • Who is responsible for online learning when teachers are working face-to-face all day?
  • How will schools/districts provide specialized instruction for children with Individual Learning Plans?

Some material drawn from Ed in the Apple by Peter Goodman. Used with permission.

Now is not the time to suddenly realize that schools are an essential service to the economy after they have been inadequately financed.

I want children back in school, but I want it to be done safely. According to CNN, 1.5 million teachers or 1 in 4 teachers are vulnerable . One student death from COVID-19 is one too many. One adult death from COVID-19 upon reopening schools is one too many. The plans to reopen schools have not been sufficiently thought through and contingency plans haven’t been developed. The President and Secretary of Education are out of step with the realities of public schools and education.