As a high school teacher, I would wholeheartedly return to the classroom on the directive of my superintendent if the return is to be done in full compliance with CDC guidelines. Should, for example, the six-foot distancing be reduced or masks not be required of all, my enthusiasm for a return to normal wanes dramatically. I am sympathetic to the vehement desire of many to get students and teachers back in brick and mortar buildings. However, at this critical juncture, what I most desire from anyone advocating for students and teachers to return to a pre-Covid model of in-class instruction is blunt honesty as to the risks to which they are willing to expose students, teachers, and, by extension, their loved ones at home by returning to school-as-usual.
Statistics are brutal things, and they unequivocally tell us that under such a plan – especially if CDC guidelines are compromised – a number of students, teachers, and support personnel will inevitably contract Covid-19. Contrarily, a hybrid model greatly reduces the number of people in a school building at any one time and concurrently the risk of contagion, while a remote learning model guarantees that schools play no role in the virus’s perpetuation. Therefore, I would like those who insist on a full return, especially those in positions of authority to determine what plan schools will follow, to declare publicly what number of sick and dead they consider to be an acceptable loss in order to get the economy and our American lifestyle back to normal. For under a full return, no matter how many precautions are taken, a number of students, teachers, and support staff will contract and transmit the virus to one another and to those with whom they share living space. Admittedly, most of those who become infected will be asymptomatic; however, some small percentage will suffer a debilitating illness for a relatively short period of time, some will experience long term damage to their health as a result of their struggle with the disease, and some will die. If these “Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead!” philosophers believe strongly in their position, they should have no problem going on the record with a declaration of how many lives they are willing to sacrifice. I would certainly have much more respect for their position should they possess the courage to admit the suffering that will occur as a result of their position and be willing to bear a share of the responsibility for that said suffering.
It is important for us to acknowledge that any contraction of Covid-19 and deaths that result from re-opening schools on the traditional model will NOT be the result of an accident. Those who advocate for and those who directly send students, teachers, and staff back into those school buildings will NOT be blameless regarding those who suffer as a result of their position. If they have a number in mind as to what they consider to be an acceptable loss, they are of a different mind frame than me, and I ask them to apply the faces and names of their loved ones who will be in those schools to that number before they put a single child on the bus.