MINOT, N.D. — I am a father to a 12-year-old who, last year, was just completing her first year of middle school.
Thanks to coronavirus, the last months of the school year were rough.
We did our best with the online assignments, but the online system our school district deployed to track assignments was clunky. The teachers were overwhelmed and often unresponsive. This is not a criticism; how could they have been prepared?
I believe our schools were doing their best in an awful situation.
Still, at home, we were frustrated, but the worst of it wasn't a confusing blizzard of assignments or slow grading.
The worst was the lack of society. My daughter was doing her assigned work, but she wasn't getting the benefit of learning alongside her peers or socializing in the hallways between classes. She wasn't seeing her friends or participating in school activities.
The only way we had to address this at home was to open up her limited online time so she could reach out to her friends, but this was insufficient. I grew up at the dawn of the internet age, and I was a computer nerd. I might understand better than many parents how fruitful online time can be.
It's still no replacement for face-to-face relationships.
It became difficult, at times, to lure her out of bed in the morning, even beyond the more typical challenges with getting a tweener to rise-and-shine.
With the COVID-19 virus resurgent and another school year looming, the debate before us is whether we send kids back to school again.
Much of that debate has centered, as it should, on the public health risk of operating schools amidst an ongoing pandemic.
What's understated in that debate is the public health risk associated with keeping kids at home.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that "all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school."
"The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020," the group continued.
That's right on target. Yes, there are risks to re-opening schools, but there is risk in keeping them closed to,o.
If it's not safe to open our schools, then we'll have to make do with distance education but as the AAP notes, we need to start with the goal of sending the kids back to school and work from there. What's more, we need to cut through some of the partisan nonsense which has grown up around the coronavirus.
We have people on the left who are overreacting, and people on the right who are far too blasé, and we really ought to tune them out.
Get off Twitter. Stop watching cable news. What's best for our kids is re-opening the schools. Let's focus on that, not some ranting pundit. Or a ranting president, for that matter.
What sorts of things can we do to operate our schools safely this fall? I have some ideas.
We could start by limiting school interactions to cohorts. Allow kids to mingle with others in their class or grade, but not the larger student body. Space out the desks and, instead of having kids change classrooms during the day, get the teachers to move, thus limiting crowds in the hallways.
Things like assemblies can be done online, or through streaming to the classrooms.
Eventually, the kids do have to come and go from the classrooms, but even there, we could limit mixing by making hallways in the schools one-way. It might mean some extra walking, but that's not going to kill anyone.
The first day of school is always crowded and chaotic, so we could stagger start dates to alleviate that. Perhaps specific grades could start on certain weeks, with things spaced out to keep crowding to a minimum.
Drop-off and pick-up times are also crowded, but we could stagger release times too as a way to reduce mixing. Also, and this was true even before the virus, a lot more kids could be walking home.
And masks. We have to wear masks. They are not a panacea for stopping the virus, but they do help, and to pull this off, we need everything that will help.
The obstacle in deploying these policies will be parents who don't want to take the risk. For them, we should maintain a stay-at-home option. If they don't want to send their kids back to school, even with precautions in place, they shouldn't. But we can't let their objections be a veto.
I don't envy the policymakers who must make this decision. If they open the schools, they're going to be lambasted for a while by those who insist they're putting children at risk.
Again, what we must focus on is the equivalent risk of keeping kids locked up in their homes.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.