Public health experts suggest that school re-openings can go smoothly if parents and families prepare and heed precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Yet schools cannot neglect the most vulnerable students. At least 25 percent of children in the United States aged 2 to 8 years have at least one chronic health condition – and as many of 30 million children with one or more of such conditions could be especially vulnerable to Covid-19 infection. Some families may not realize that their children are vulnerable as some ailments like heart conditions can go undetected for years. Heart disease is the fifth leading cause of death for US children ages 1 to 5.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports more than 300,000 cases of Covid-19 among US children, with rates rising by 40 percent during the last two weeks of July. Three states - California, Florida and Arizona - represent about a quarter of those cases. There are inconsistencies in how states collect data along with disagreements over the definition of a child. Most cases among children are asymptomatic but the long-term consequences are unknown.
Mixed messages and inconsistencies in data collection do not help during a pandemic.
The UN Global Compact points out that the pandemic is “testing the world’s humanity and resilience at a time that is already marked by acute inequality.” Poor planning for the Covid-19 pandemic – and the failure of some communities to mandate masks and social distancing – could threaten learning and delay economic productivity for years to come.
All individuals must come to terms that schools, work and other social interactions will not return to normal any time soon, not until cases subside or public health experts develop efficient treatments and vaccines. Attempts to hide the pandemic’s consequences are futile as more families lose loved ones to the disease and communities confront ongoing hospitalizations and deaths.
One high school in Georgia learned this after administrators made donning masks a “personal choice.” At least two students posted images of a crowded school hallway – no social distancing in effect. The school suspended at least two students before swiftly, warning the student body about "consequences" for such public posts. The school swiftly reversed the punishment after the story received national attention. Communities want to know what schools look like - and will hold those political and school leaders who rush economic re-openings and skimp on protections accountable.
One suspended student explained to CNN that she understood school rules prohibited recording and posting school scenes on social media during the day without an administrator’s permission. But referring to the words of the late Congressman John Lewis, she expressed concern for vulnerable students, staff members and family members and said she regarded posting the photograph as “good and necessary trouble.”
Secrecy is not protection. School children represent about 18 percent of the US population. Communities and families pay taxes, fees and tuition for education and want to ensure that schools engage in safe practices not only for the children in attendance but also the staff and parents, grandparents, neighbors and other family members who might care for them. The school superintendent notified parents that the district will provide staff with masks and reduce crowding in school hallways, reports the Washington Post.
Children, parents and staff will speak up because their health is at sake. All are armed with phones and cameras. Protecting schools is essential as children represent the future of society. As Mohandes Gandhi noted, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
This post was updated on August 11, 2020.