I can foresee a not so distant future scenario where weeping parents are lamenting, “If only we had known how to protect our kids from Covid 19,” as they grieve over the bodies of their sick and dying children. But we do know. If only we have the will to act on that knowledge. This scene is totally preventable if we act in good conscience for the greater good. We know what to do. It won’t be an easy process, but it is doable. Our kids are depending on us to not back down because they can’t protect themselves.
I’m a 71-year-old retired educator. I have spent my life trying to protect kids from the dangers of modern schools, see here, here, and here. My advocacy has cost me dearly both personally and professionally. I know what it’s like to to take your eye off the prize while trying to protect a child . . . and to tragically fail. We don’t want to go through that. I’m hoping this time, this issue, is different — that people will pull together to do what is right. We must take the mission of protecting children from covid at school seriously. Their lives depend on it, literally. It seems that the mask mandate meme has co-opted the conversation about safely reopening schools. It is silly to think that by simply requiring that kids wear masks (or not), they will be safe. Masks are only a small part of the solution.
Not long ago an acquaintance asked me, “When do you think this COVID thing is going to end?” I pondered. “When will the pandemic end? I am vaccinated so for me a big part of it is over. I can hug my kids and see my vaccinated friends again. YAY! I have done some traveling already, but stay away from crowds and people I don't know. I still wear a mask when I'm out and about. If only people would get the shot, this thing could be manageable for the U.S. almost immediately. Globally, that's going to take longer. “
That was my response soon after I got the shot in May. I felt invincible and joyful Now, only a few months later, I’m flummoxed over the surge in cases and the spike in preventable deaths. We are so fortunate that the virus did not prey on young children in the beginning. That’s changing now. Although the Delta variant does not specifically target children, it has become more aggressive and is infecting more children. More children are becoming ill and dying. So, we must take stricter measures to make sure kids are safe at school.
Something wicked this way comes
I’ve heard some say they would rather take their chances with the virus than be vaccinated. They feel they are healthy and strong enough to beat it. Why would anyone want to be an host for a deadly virus? Viruses aren’t considered to be alive in the traditional sense, but they can exist forever in our bodies once we have them. V. It’s too soon for scientists to know how the corona virus will affect us long term. We do know that once you have the virus. We know that the best way to protect ourselves currently and in the future is to not get the virus in the first place. The covid vaccine is our best defense at the moment. It’s not bulletproof, but it is our most impactful tool. Instead of taking on the virus, the smarter thing to do is to get vaccinated and then avoid the virus like the plague because that’s what it is. Certainly the vaccine is essential for prevention of contagion at school.
Traditionally, elementary school classrooms are incubators for all sorts of nuisance illnesses, especially from September though October. Runny noses, coughing, sneezing, fevers, and such run amok. Most teachers will experience at least of couple of sick days during that time. It’s expected. It comes with the job. But a deadly virus is in a whole other category. Many covid symptoms are the same as symptoms for the common cold or flu. How do we tell the difference?.Not one of us signed on for that. By the end of this post, I’m going to ask teachers to do something extraordinary. And, I’m going to ask everyone — EVERYONE — to help them. I’m going to ask everyone to participate in an experiment to keep kids safe at school. Teachers are in an unique position to do this. Unlike doctors and nurses who must accept the onslaught of abuses heaped upon them by the unvaccinated, teachers can say NO! The ill-conceived notion that one’s personal freedom supersedes the common good is a terribly flawed point of view, especially when that personal choice endangers medical professionals and overtaxes our healthcare system. Teachers did not take an oath to take care of the sick.They do, however, feel an obligation to keep their students safe at school. So, I’m asking everyone to work through this with me to see if we can’t come up with a bonafide plan to keep kids at school from getting sick and dying from corona virus.
Covid-19 is a global pandemic, but the solution to control it depends on personal choices Made by each of us.
Person by person, classroom by classroom, school by school, county by county, state by state, country by country, we can defeat this pandemic if EVERYONE cooperates.
Some politicians are trying to make names for themselves by directly obstructing efforts by school officials to keep kids safe. They want to ascribe the duty of protecting kids to parents. In doing so, they expose two major misconceptions about parents: (1) Parents are of like mind; and (2) Parents always do what's best for children. Any teacher knows parents aren’t and don’t. Often parents don’t possess the knowledge to make informed decisions, and honestly they should not be expected to do so. They rely on experts to guide those in power to do the right thing. Parents have the responsibility to hold officials accountable to do the right thing based on evidence. The fact is that even though we can’t know the future, we can extrapolate from what we do know and make fairly accurate predictions. We can make decisions based on that knowledge to keep kids dafe. We also know if we work together and act diligently, we can beat this virus effectively and even rather quickly. We just need the courage, discipline, and will to do it. Pitting parent against parent to solve the problem is not a solution as shown in the video below.
What if we do nothing, as some politicians suggest. Covid doesn’t affect kids much, right? Wrong! A prime example is Fort Bliss where many immigrant children were infected and some died. The same thing could happen in classrooms. Covid doesn’t care about your immigration status. (As an aside to President Biden: Joe, you have an expert on caring for children standing right there beside you. Talk to your wife over dinner about how to protect kids. Ask Jill about her ideas on safely reopening schools. I’m sure you have some fine knowledgeable people on staff as well. We DO have the best people. Listen to them. Listen to them. Be bold! .We have to get this right. There is no excuse for unforced errors. And for god’s sake, don't cover stuff up. By the way Mr. President, you are doing great work for kids in other areas like the child tax credit. Let’s get this right, too.)
For a period of 12 years in the 80’s and 90’s, I taught a class at Indianan University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) called Methods of Inquiry. Of all the classes I ever taught from kindergarten through grad school, it was my favorite class to teach. Together as a class and individually, we did original research, learned how to seek out the most reliable sources, interviewed scientists, recreated classic experiments of renowned scientists and studied their legacies. We learned why some opinions are more valid than others. In essence, I taught students to be curious. It was an entry level class that education students were required to pass before being admitted to the Teacher Certification program. Often, I’ve thought that everyone should be required to take that class. My students also watched episodes from a video series called The Search for Solutions (1979), which I highly recommend even today. When it first aired on PBS, it was available to teachers only on 16mm film reels to be shown on a Bell and Howell projector. (I’m so old.)
As I reminisce about my teaching days, I think about how I might teach that class this year as students head back to school during the pandemic. (Indiana University issued a vaccination mandate for all students attending campus. YAY! My question is why hasn’t every other college campus?)
Returning to thoughts on teaching my class: I would pose to my students this question: How can we best protect kids at school from Covid-19? An experiment always starts with a good question in search of a solution. Next, my students would hypothesize together using information we already know.
What do we know?
While some politicians are spreading false information and causing chaos, others like Oregon state Senator Mike Dembrow have been doing a great job of keeping the public informed from the beginning. Sadly, their efforts are seldom reported by the media. The following is extrapolated from Senator Dembrow’s website which is updated daily. The full article is posted at Parents Across America Oregon. Updates for all areas in the United States can be found at the Covid Data Tracker.
From July 2020:
The key to reopening school is the elimination of the virus. Senator Michael Dembrow has been diligent in providing constituents with daily COVID-19 updates, tracking new cases in each county. It would seem logical that some counties will have the virus under control sooner than others. So, instead of projecting a statewide reopening, it might make more sense to open schools county-by-county. Shown below is a screen shot of new cases for July 10, 2020. On this day, eight counties have no new cases with several having only one new case. We can get that number down to zero, It will take longer in some counties than others. Once the virus has disappeared and no new cases are posted for a period of 14 days, schools should be able to cautiously reopen. This is doable!
Instead of concentrating on reporting new cases and deaths on a regular bases, the media could and should give at least equal time to success stories where people and communities are seeing a downward trend. How are they doing it? What can we learn from them?
Of course, the game changer in 2021is we now have a vaccine for adults. That gives us some reassurance that teachers who are vaccinated will not die from the virus if protocols are followed until the virus is no longer viable in an area.. The vaccine is not available for children under 12 years of age yet. Also, we know the Delta variant
is more vicious than the original strain and attacks kids more. So, it would seem that a most important action to keep students and teachers safe at school is to virus-proof the school. KEEP COVID OUT.
Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, U.S. epidemiologist, explains why vaccines alone won't stop Delta and why our hopes for “herd immunity” may be a panacea. He also explains why some mask are safer than others.
The following is a hypothetical conversation between students 1, 2, and 3 as they work together to devise a hypothesis for an experiment to answer my original question: How can we best protect kids at school from Covid-19? It becomes obvious right away that this will not be the typical experiment with only one controlled variable. in this case, that’s more than okay.
S1: Schools should be properly ventilated before they reopen.
S2: Yes, and anyone entering the school must be vaccinated. If we don’t use vaccinations as a control, there is little difference in the school environment from 2020 to 2021. Why would we send kids into the same toxic environment that was prohibitive last year. So, anyone entering the school must be vaccinated.
S3: Kids can’t be vaccinated yet.
S1 : All adults, including teachers and staff, must be vaccinated before entering the building.
S3: What about parents?
S1: Yes, parents, care givers, and children over 12 must be vaccinated.
S3: Some parents won’t want to be vaccinated.
S1: Parents müst be vaccinated if they want to bring their kids to school.
S3: That’s harsh.
S1: Endangering kids at school by not being vaccinated is harsh. Don’t back down.
S2: Besides, their kids can do virtual learning from home like they did last year if they don’t want to be vaccinated. Homes must become Covid-free zones, too if kids are going to come to school.
S3: The tricky thing is breakthrough cases are showing that even vaccinated people can have the disease without showing symptoms.
S1: Everyone must have their forehead temperature taken each day before entering the school — like they do in hospitals. And get a hand stamp to prove it .
S2: Anyone with a higher than normal temperature must be tested and will not be allowed in school.
S3: Kids should still wear safe masks at school just in case someone who is infected gets in.
S3: Any adult attending a crowded event who may have been in the presence of the virus must report it to school officials, be tested, and quarantine for 14 days during which time their children will not be able to attend school.
S1: We should also follow CDC hand washing and social distancing rules as much as possible until we know for sure Covid is no longer in the area.
S3: Who will be our control group?
S2: Maybe any other school(s) in the area that are not following our protocols?
S1: Okay. We will compare our numbers against those of other schools not following our protocols.
Eradicating the virus by allowing only vaccinated adults to enter the school property while following all CDC protocols will result in fewer children becoming sick and dying from Covid.
- At a minimum all schools must be outfitted with HEPA filters before reopening.
- Every adult and child over 12 entering the school must be vaccinated.
- Everyone entering the building must show proof of having their forehead temperature taken daily.
- Anyone with a higher than average temperature must be tested for Covid and sent home.
- Everyone in the school must wear a safe mask, wash hands regularly, and appropriately social distance.
- Any adult or child over 12 who attends a crowded “super-spreader”event must report to school officials, be tested, and stay away from school until it is determined that person is not a danger to children. Children in that home must also quarantine out of school.
- Any child younger than 12 attending a crowded “super-spreader” event will not be allowed to enter school until after a quarantine period has passed.
- School officials will record all instances of Covid illness, hospitalizations, and deaths.
- Data will be analyzed and compared to control groups to determine if the hypothesis is valid.
- Protocols will be lifted when health officials are confident that the virus no longer inhabits the area.
- If an infection occurs after protocols are lifted, all protocols will be reinstated and cases will be tracked until the “All Clear” is given by officials. At that time spontaneous mask-free celebrations will likely erupt!
In effect, each school will become it’s own little New Zealand as shown below. By controlling the virus at the micro level, it is less likely that a massive shutdown will be necessary. Fingers-crossed.
I understand that some people are hesitant about being vaccinated because it was rushed to market. They may think the vaccine was developed too quickly and may not be safe. While it is true that the vaccine did make it to market faster than most, much of that speed can be attributed to the elimination of red tape. Try to think of it from another perspective. Science builds upon itself. Each scientific advancement builds on all the others before it. In that way we have been working on a vaccine all along. The video below is relevant to both the topic of the pandemic and the topic of how science works. It’s an excellent history from the brilliant folks at Timeline: The Black Plague: How Did One Village Survive? It has a fascinating twist — of great interest today because of the embedded story of an entirely different type of Delta variant. Fascinating.
If you have stayed with me to this point, thank you for your diligence and patience. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” No quote could be more apropos for us today considering our current state of affairs.The statue below sits in Washington, D.C. to remind us that democracy comes at a price. The perceived liberty of one person cannot quash the freedom of others, nor put others in jeopardy — unless we let it.
If smarmy politicians continue to spread misinformation about Covid and use their positions of power to minimize the severity of this problem and obstruct school officials from doing their jobs, they are complicit in harming children — in causing illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. They should be made to suffer the consequences of their wrong-doing.
This is more of a plea than a request: Please take the necessary steps in your community to protect kids at school. The is doable!
Time for a little on point comic relief with Amber Ruffin. You know we need it. “Will New Zealand’s mom let Amber come over?
Now let’s get to work.
Have a suggestion for keeping kids safe from covid at school? Please, share it below.
We’re all in this together.