Sending Kids Back to School in a Pandemic, some thoughts

By | March 14, 2021

This last year has been a tough one on many different levels. I don’t even know where to start. The loss of life we’ve experienced in this country and globally is at a level most of us have never seen, and hopefully will never see again. It’s difficult to even comprehend the scale of it. This post is not to discuss that, though. This post is to discuss the dissonance that I feel about returning kids back to school during a pandemic, albeit on the downward slope of it now that we have multiple vaccines available and are continuing to roll out around the country and world.

A year ago yesterday my two kids were sent home from school, for what was supposed to be a few weeks to a month. As of now, they haven’t set foot back into a classroom in over a year. It’s not ideal, but I’m not in any rush for them to go back, either. Right now they’re in 2nd and 5th grades. They’ll likely return in August for 3rd and 6th grades. Whether or not they’ll return is dependent on where things are at with the pandemic.

My biggest question, though, and what I’m still trying to figure out is why kids are being treated the way that they are. The president’s promise to get kids back into school within his first 100 days of office baffles me. Is he pandering to the masses with this? How exactly is it safe to do so when there is no vaccine available to them? I understand that kids are less likely to have severe illness from Covid-19 than adults, however they can still get it, and still have problems with it.

As of the end of December, over 2 million (MILLION) kids have been diagnosed with Covid-19, about 12.4% of the recorded cases. This is also likely an under-count since many kids don’t show any symptoms. At least 172 kids have died from it. Isn’t that too many? Because that really sounds like too many to me.

In the school district where we live, they decided to exploit a loophole in the re-opening plan laid out by our governor. They re-opened at the beginning of November. The loophole was that “any schools that are open may remain open at the direction of the individual district”. This was an interesting process, and the decisions being made were made right in the middle of the last few weeks before the presidential election. It was fascinating to me to watch. In the city where I live, the split is 75% republican and 25% democrat. Votes were straight down party lines, as was the decisions to send kids back to school. Roughly 75% of the parents opted to send their kids back to full-time in-person learning, and the remaining 25% opted for distance learning, run by district teachers.

Now, that means that there were a total of 9,800 students and staff that went back to school in November. Full-time, in-person. There are still guidelines in place, social distancing, hand washing, masks, etc. They even decided to publish a Covid dashboard where they would report the current infection rates broken down by school and whether it was staff or students. Reporting a positive Covid test, however, was completely voluntary.

Here’s where it gets even better. In that 3 months, over 4.8% of the staff or students have reported a positive infection. That’s roughly 1 in 20. But really, it’s safe to open schools back up. They’re basically immune, right? I’m pretty sure I remember a certain twice impeached former president say that. The mortality rate in our county is also just over 1%, but it’s just like the flu, or so I’ve heard.

Now that we’ve got vaccines rolling out to the adult population, though, the thought of re-opening and “getting back to normal” seems to have seriously clouded people’s minds and judgement. While it’s true, we have three vaccines to choose from now (even if they are in short supply), they’re only available to those 16 and older for two of them, and 18 and older for the third. This isn’t even taking into consideration amount of anti-vaccine sentiment we’ve been cultivating in this country for the last few years.

So, seriously, I want to know, how is it safe for our children to go back to school? They can’t get vaccinated, and those that are, can still get Covid-19, but they’re just much less likely to have a severe case of it that lands them in the hospital or morgue.

Can’t we just say that the 2020-21 school year is a wash? Let the pharmaceutical companies finish their tests on the 2-18 year olds and lets get everyone vaccinated by the end of July. We’ll have the vaccine supply by then, and hopefully dosage levels for kids.

If we’re really really worried about the education aspect of it, have this entire age group from K-12 repeat the current grade when they can go back next year. Those kids that were able to do well with the shitshow that is distance learning, next year will be mostly review. For those that weren’t able to do well, next year will be just a bit easier. But let’s be honest, this really isn’t about their education. This is about parents wanting their kids to get back to socializing, get them out of the house, and not be bored or depressed any longer. There’s also a certain segment that are just wanting their baby sitters back. You won’t convince me that it’s just about the education, though.

I also know that I’m coming from a place of privilege. My wife is a stay-at-home mom, and I’m self-employed. All of my work is remote already, so it didn’t impact me nearly as much as it has many others. I can still empathize with their circumstances, though. It’s been really tough on my two young kids not being able to see their friends, to not be able to go out and socialize. We’ve talked with them, though, and they’d rather not see someone they love potentially die from it. Did I mention my wife is in a wheelchair (MS) and is considered high risk? We also don’t know what the long-term effects of having Covid-19 are yet. There has already been evidence that suggests higher levels of diabetes risk, lung disease and capacity issues, as well as heart issues. Just because a child who gets it isn’t likely to be hospitalized or die from it doesn’t negate the fact that they may suffer serious long-term health issues because they had it.

So, why exactly are we in such a hurry to “get back to normal” and get kids back in school when there isn’t a vaccine available for them, just for everyone else? If we just hang on for a few more months, we could have nearly everyone vaccinated and actually get back to normal. Instead, I see this lingering on for months or even years because we pushed too fast.

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