Open the schools! Now? *

Aren’t these great images? Kids back in school, where they belong. Parents back at work. Sure, there are masks, and the kids are far away from each other, but they’re learning, and that’s what’s important. Teachers are there in person, which is what they’ve trained so hard to do.

Trouble is, these pictures aren’t from the U.S. They’re from Asia and Europe. Here’s what it looks like in the U.S.

This is from the great state of Georgia, where Gov. Kemp is suing the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, over her move to require the city’s residents to use masks. Just to complete the picture, the student who took this picture has been suspended by the principal of the school, perhaps in an effort to emulate China’s persecution of the whistle blower, Dr. Li Wenliang.

The only positive indicator in GA is cases, but those may go up again as schools reopen and the virus spreads. Also, the very high positivity rate of 12.8% indicates that testing there is grossly insufficient.

All across the U.S., teachers are being forced to choose between educating students and their own health – by governors currying favor with Trump, by mayors trying to advance in the cult-like Republican party, and by wanna-be trumpers on school boards.

Being in a cult is a lot easier without kids, either your own, or ones you care for as a teacher. When kids get involved, if you have a conscience, you start thinking about the choices you make and their direct impact on innocent lives. The more you go down that road, the harder it is to justify the actions of our president and the political cult members who follow him.

That’s the experience of Nancy Shively, a special education teacher and a lifelong Republican who voted for Trump in 2016.

When the pandemic hit, the incompetence of the man for whom I had voted and the complicity of everyone around him forced me to admit that I could no longer maintain any kind of self-respect as a Republican. So even though I had voted Republican in every presidential election since 1976, I changed my voter registration to independent and I will be voting for Joe Biden in November. 

Nancy Shively, USA Today, July 23, 2020

As she points out in the article, her school district doesn’t require masks, and there are two nurses for 2,400 students in five buildings.

This is a complex problem, and not one that can be solved with simplistic ideological dictates that the “schools must open.” The various stakeholders in the public school system include at least 1/3 of the entire US population. You can’t endanger the lives of 100 million people without a well thought out national plan, a commitment of resources to execute that plan, and a unified approach from the federal level to the school level, to carry out that plan.

We have none of that.

School districts have had to piece together plans as best they could, using CDC guidelines, recommendations from the American Assn. of Pediatricians, and input from parents, teachers, and school staff. Sometimes they are good plans, sometimes bad. But in the absence of national support, every district, no matter how well it has thought everything out, faces incredible obstacles.

Fatuous ideologues claim that people objecting to opening the schools for in-person instruction don’t want kids to learn. If kids suffer, they argue, that makes Trump look bad.

People like this have never known teachers. My wife was a teacher in very low income areas of Oceanside, CA for 18 years. Through her, I got to know literally hundreds of teachers. Every single one of them put their kids first and foremost. Every one of them knows that every month without in-person education harms kids, in particular young and special needs students.

They also know the realities on the ground, especially in schools serving minority and low income children. They’ve had to deal with the crumbling infrastructure, the desks made in 1975, the books with no covers, non-functioning bathrooms, leaky ceilings, etc.

Go back to the images I started with. What do you see? On the left side kids are separated by plexiglass. They all have masks. On the right side, they are at least six feet apart. There’s comprehensive testing and case tracking. Most importantly, the countries that opened their schools successfully didn’t try to do it when cases were surging. One of the best countries in this regard was Uruguay. Yesterday, Uruguay had 9 cases; we had over 57,000.

One of the reasons it’s so dangerous to open schools to in-person instruction when cases are surging are kids themselves. Facebook and Twitter had to remove Trump’s lie that “children are almost — and I would almost say definitely — but almost immune from this disease.”

What researchers are finding out is that kids over 10 infect other people as well as anyone. They may be asymptomatic, but they live with parents, and often grandparents. They interact with other family members. In Georgia, teachers went back to school last week, and in seven days, 260 school employees were sent home to quarantine.

Any parent or teacher who deals with little kids instinctively doesn’t trust the latest lie from Trump, who knows next to nothing about children and their lives. They know schools are giant petri dishes where even in good times, you’re bound to get whatever cold or flu virus is being passed around.

Protecting teachers, staff, children and their parents will require money, lots of it.

Teachers are constantly raiding their own bank accounts to provide for their kids, but this is one instance where they just don’t have the resources. They can’t replace a faulty HVAC system that spreads virus-laden aerosols. They can’t build extra classrooms because the ones they teach in can only accommodate 10 students if they’re maintaining social distancing.

Most of all, they can’t provide the kind of testing and follow-up needed to keep the pandemic under control. As Brian Resnick points out in this excellent article on COVID data, we have insufficient testing metrics. Positivity rates, when you’re only testing people with symptoms, mean less and less. About all they can tell you is how pathetic your testing effort really is.

He suggests that we should really have “surveillance testing”, where a predefined segment of the population is tested, tracked, and reported on. From that you can get a much more accurate picture of Rt, the effective rate of transmission. This would help us understand which schools could safely open, and which ones couldn’t.

Even if we had different national leadership, better metrics, etc. we would face a challenge in this country that would make it a formidable one. That’s because our school system is grossly unequal. Last year, the Washington Post reported that school districts in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods received $23 billion more than predominantly nonwhite school districts.

In a pandemic like this one, that means that schools in mainly non-white districts can’t afford air filtration systems; they can’t afford to put up tents outside; they can’t afford PPE. And testing is often inadequate or non-existent in minority neighborhoods.

There’s a great book I recommend you all read: Caste – the Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson. She starts the book off by using an apt metaphor. A house has studs and joists and concrete slabs that form its hidden skeleton. What we see is the outside of that house – the paint, the stucco, the roof, the windows. A 400 year old caste system is the structure of America; racism is the “paint” that ideologically “justifies” it.

The pandemic is stripping away that paint. It’s exposing the rotten studs and joists underneath: a health care system that can’t deal with a pandemic; a school system that has incredibly unequal funding; housing that keeps people of color out of white suburbs; and perhaps worst of all, an electoral system that perpetuates the rule of the most powerful caste, represented primarily by the Republican party. [I don’t deny that Democrats share the some of the blame here, especially those that bought into “neo-liberalism.”]

Is everything hopeless? I don’t think so. But we have to vote in the people who can lead us forward. A narrowly won vote won’t be enough. We have to de-legitimize the party that created this dystopian nightmare, and that means a landslide defeat for Trump and all who support him at every level.

By now, most of you have heard about California’s problems with data, especially testing and case data. Because of that, I won’t be commenting on CA numbers until this is straightened out. If you want to see current numbers, you can go to your public health department, or you can see the lastest numbers on my interactive charts here:

The prevalence index helps explain why people aren’t buying the Republican party’s line that we’re doing a great job. In LA County, one out of every 51 people has had direct experience with COVID. In San Diego County, it’s one out of every 109 people, but in Spring Valley, it’s one out of every 27 people.

Comments from Readers & My Responses

The following are some of the comments from readers on Reddit and other social media platforms where I regularly post. Reader comments are in italics and color. My responses are in plain text. If there is more than one commenter without a response, they are separated by different colors.

Thank you for posting this – focusing on one important issue of right now! I can agree with all you said..I was horrified when I saw that photo from GA earlier, but I didn’t know the student was suspended for posting it – that’s BS. I’m also glad you posted about the inequality as well because I feel like a lot of parents aren’t understanding that some schools have access to resources while others may not, especially when it comes to filtration etc. I would basically sit here and echo everything you wrote because in my head, the whole way through, I kept saying YES!!! to all! So I appreciate the fact that you took the time to address this (and I know we discussed it briefly in the other post you made) but I hope more people will read this and take the time to consider all you wrote! Have a great Friday!

I say this a lot but I REALLY enjoy reading these. Your insight on all of this is really appreciated. Being around healthcare professionals who think this is being exaggerated is mind boggling. We have had coworkers DIE, many coworkers family members have died, many coworkers have been out with covid, and these people STILL think it’s not as bad as it’s being reported. But, you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into. Thanks for posting these, it takes a lot of work to make something so confusing seem so easy to understand.

The introduction you wrote was sure bliss. I knew those first two pics weren’t from US, but it’s still amazes me to think that EVEN IF schools were to mandate masks and social distancing, the wild belief that students will follow it makes me laugh. Now mind you, I’m not saying that all students are dumb or “rule breaking,” just when you’re a young person, you want to hang with your friends you haven’t seen since AT LEAST March and you want to kiss your partner, its all part of life.

I know when I was growing up, this what I would do. This virus, however, scares me. I think school officials are obviously choosing politics over health and that scares me more. It scares me the most that people still believe this is a myth – or a myth made up by the democratic/socialist party. I can’t understand it.

As always thanks for this! Hope to read more soon! 🙂

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