Is reopening schools worth the risk?

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

As the school-reopening debate continues, concerns surface for students, families, teachers and all school employees. Reading stream-of-consciousness social media posts allows us to watch posters work through the many choices surrounding school.

In Pelham High School creative writing classes, students sometimes participate in “oral outlining.” They talk about topics to excavate their authentic ideas. Following “oral outlining,” impassioned arguments and rebuttals fill their pages.
Social media posts grappling with the pros and cons of whether to attend school as Covid19 numbers grip the country are also producing impassioned and insightful arguments.

“But I just can’t, in good conscience, participate in COVID roulette,” a Huntsville elementary/middle school parent posts. “We LOVE ASFL (Academy for Science and Foreign Language Magnet School)…I know my girl will be crushed, but she’d be more crushed to lose a teacher or classmate to COVID.”

As a high school teacher, I have experienced the loss of classmates and teachers alongside my students. Those teachers’ and students’ empty desks devastate. Teachers experience children’s deaths. No matter how low the death rate for children is—that number is too high.

“One can reasonably argue that, due to the school closures in March, children have had the least EXPOSURE to COVID,” a Virginia middle/high school parent wrote. “…closing schools was the one pandemic mitigation action we took that worked. There can be no discussion of the rate of diagnosis within children without also acknowledging they were among our fastest and most quarantined people.”

My daughter and I ordered new planners. My daughter’s planner is a college senior year agenda. My planner is for daily lesson plan notes. While my in-depth plans are digital, teaching four electives plus English classes makes quick daily notes for each subject necessary.

We are all planning and craving normality—but normal has shifted. Reopened classrooms with isolated desks and restricted student movement, where singing, loud talking or laughter increase risk is abnormal. Protecting children is normal.

Reopening schools could cause massive infection and loss—when vaccines are only months away. Is sacrificing the health or lives of children—for frightening, abnormal school, worth the risk?