The Woeful Inadequacy of School-Reopening Plans - Unmasp - experience exhibiting blog

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The Woeful Inadequacy of School-Reopening Plans


The Woeful Inadequacy of School-Reopening Plans

We wasted the summer, while President Trump sowed distrust and promoted heedlessness. What’s left now is to see what can be salvaged.
The Woeful Inadequacy of SchoolReopening Plans
Illustration by João Fazenda

School isn’t due to start in New York City until after Labor Day, but in Georgia some districts began opening last week, even though the state is averaging upward of three thousand new cases of covid-19 a day—more than France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined. Schools opened in Paulding County, outside Atlanta, despite there being an outbreak among members of a high-school football team. Students posted photographs of the first days of the term at the high school, showing teen-agers jammed in two-way corridor traffic, most of them without masks. Brian Otott, the county’s school superintendent, said that the crowding did not violate its “protocols” and that “wearing a mask is a personal choice and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them.” School administrators did, however, warn students that they would be disciplined if they kept posting “negative” images.

Otott’s statement exhibited defiance, denialism, and a peculiar sort of defeatism—all factors that have contributed to what it is now clear are woefully inadequate preparations to open schools nationwide. In May, as the number of new cases in much of the country was declining, it might have been possible to believe that, by the fall, it would be high time and easy, as President Trump tweeted, to “OPEN THE SCHOOLS!!!” Indeed, many people who care deeply about vulnerable populations in ways that he has never shown are desperate to open schools. Children can be less safe at home than they are at school; families can face a crisis if a parent or guardian (often a mother) has to stay with a child rather than go to work.

But as Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, put it last week, when she announced that all school instruction in her city will be remote at least until November, we have now moved to “a very different place in the arc of the pandemic.” Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami-Dade, Philadelphia, and Houston made similar decisions. In some places, sufficient groundwork simply hasn’t been done. In New York City, which has more than a million students, the virus has ebbed, but Mayor Bill de Blasio has offered an inept plan that relies on staff and equipment that don’t exist and that the city has no plans to pay for, all to give children in-person instruction only one to three days a week. Michael Mulgrew, the head of the United Federation of Teachers, has said that the city’s safety standards are “not enough.”

It remains true, thankfully, that the number of children who die from covid-19 is very small, but they can become quite ill and have high viral loads. (A video of Trump claiming, last week, that children were “almost immune” was taken down by Facebook for violating its policy on dangerous covid-19 misinformation.) And children, particularly older ones, can spread the virus; in Israel, the reopening of middle schools and high schools with relaxed social distancing preceded outbreaks in the wider community. A study by the Centers for Disease Control of a summer camp in Georgia found at least two hundred and sixty confirmed cases among the some six hundred children and staff members; half the children aged six to ten tested positive, the highest rate of any age group present. Staff had been required to wear masks; campers were not.

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