"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, July 27, 2020

Remote Learning Should Continue This Fall

Remote Learning Should Continue This Fall in Tennessee


A growing body of evidence makes it increasingly clear that opening Tennessee schools this Fall represents an unwise and irresponsible political decision that will endanger staff, faculty, students, and students’ families. With a sophomore grandson chomping at the bit to get back with his friends and teachers at the L&N STEM Academy, I do not come to this conclusion lightly.  But I have to listen to the facts.


We know, in fact, that pediatricians agree that schools offer intellectual and social development opportunities that healthy kids require.  Even so, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics told Congress on July 23 that schools “really can’t open” in communities where Covid-19 remains widespread . Presently, the Washington Post ranks Tennessee 5th in the nation for new Covid infections per capita.


The facts tell us, too, that many working parents with elementary-aged children are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to making sure their children are properly cared for during the work day. Too, there is ample pressure to re-open schools in hopes of producing good economic numbers in the fall that might resuscitate November election prospects for Trumpsters who have failed to provide the leadership required to manage the pandemic. 


Sadly, any short term economic and political gain from forced early re-opening is sure to further delay sustained economic recovery beyond November.  After all, the health of the economy is dependent upon the good health of its workers. Opening schools drastically increases the chances for new transmission and increased spread of the virus to children’s parents and teachers’ families.


Unfortunately, some factually-challenged advocates for opening schools as the pandemic is headed in the wrong direction argue that children are less susceptible to the virus and are less likely to spread it if it is contracted.  Recent research, however, clearly shows that even though children often exhibit mild symptoms when they contract Covid-19, children 10 and older are just as effective as adults in spreading the virus.


Let’s consider a few more relevant facts.  In Knox County, the Health Department noted most recently that three of five Covid benchmarks are now in the red zone, which indicates “statistically significant increases in deaths and the number of positive cases, and that testing is not optimal.”


And even though Tennessee has increased Covid-19 testing by 200% since May 22, the number of positive cases has increased by 566%.   In short, the increase in testing does not come close to matching the increased number of new infections.


Even though a majority of parents (59%) are worried that their children are falling behind academically due to the pandemic, an ABC/Ipsos poll released July 24 found that only a minority (44%) of those same parents are willing to send their kids back to school this Fall.


Another national poll released July 24 by Gallup shows that teachers, who understand the challenges of keeping children safe from infections at school, are even more concerned: 75% are extremely or moderately concerned, and 74% said remote learning should continue this Fall.


The most compelling piece of evidence for keeping schools closed this Fall comes from the White House, however.  Even though his administration insists that children and teachers nationwide should head back to school in August, Mr. Trump announced July 23 that Covid makes it too unsafe to hold the in-person GOP convention scheduled for next month in Jacksonville.  Now if public gatherings are too unsafe for responsible adults with no limit on resources to make conditions safe, how can we expect children to return safely to schools that have not been provided extra funds, clear guidance, and necessary protocols to make and keep them safe? 

Just outside Knox County, Alcoa City Schools opened last week.  Their first case of Covid was detected at Alcoa Middle School two days after opening.

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