When the school district made their decision last week to not re-open physical schools I was relieved. Believe me—I know that distance learning is suboptimal and it will hurt my kids in the short term and potentially in the long term. And I fully understand that wealthy parents will be able to hire private tutors and the achievement gap is going to go up.
Those are all issues that we are going to have to face, probably sooner rather than later. We may yet have to revisit them very soon. There were conflicting reports on the potential for vaccinations, with the San Francisco Chronicle reporting that vaccinations may not produce long-term immunity from COVID, while other reports question the basis of those conclusions.
A lot of my views on schools re-opening right now are based on the premise that we can have a vaccine roll out to stem the rise of COVID by the winter. If that proves optimistic, we will have to revisit how to approach… the world.
In the meantime, I am growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of political leadership. There are studies showing that masks and social distancing could largely end the pandemic quickly, and I even do my own demonstration here on the effectiveness of masks—but the White House, especially the President, is focused on anything but COVID right now (as an advisor to Texas Governor Greg Abbott put it, “The president got bored with it”), even as members of his party in states impacted by the outbreak are breaking ranks finally.
The New York Times yesterday quoted Senate Leader Mitch McConnell saying that mask-wearing is extremely important, and urging Americans to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The straight talk here that everyone needs to understand is: This is not going away until we get a vaccine,” Senator McConnell said last week.
But 30 percent of Americans simply don’t believe it.
That’s where we are. The numbers are surging. And schools are not going to re-open.
Stop blaming the teachers for this. Even if DJUSD disagreed, the governor ordered the shutdown.
“Learning is non-negotiable,” said Governor Newsom. “The virus will be with us for a year or more, and school districts must provide meaningful instruction in the midst of this pandemic. In California, health data will determine when a school can be physically open – and when it must close – but learning should never stop. Students, staff, and parents all prefer in-classroom instruction, but only if it can be done safely.”
Any county that does not meet the state’s benchmarks is put on the County Monitoring List. They currently use six indicators to track the level of COVID-19 infection—these include the number of new infections per 100,000 residents, the test positivity rate, and the change in hospitalization rate, among others.
Yolo County, which passed 1000 cases last week after being at 255 in mid-June, is on that list.
Schools located in counties that are on the Monitoring List must not physically open for in-person instruction until their county has come off the Monitoring List for 14 consecutive days.
Schools in counties that have not been on the Monitoring List for the prior 14 days may begin in-person instruction, following public health guidelines.
On Friday, Dr. Mary Ann Limbos, Acting Public Health Officer for Yolo County, joined the board meeting.
She explained, “When districts are deciding how to safely re-open schools this fall, a paramount consideration is what’s happening with disease transmission in the surrounding community. Over the past few weeks, Yolo County has seen increasing case rates and transmission of COVID-19 and we are on the State of California’s County Monitoring List because of our concerning metrics.
“We want students, teachers, and school staff to have a safe return to school,” Limbos said. “The current pandemic doesn’t support the safe re-opening of schools with in-person instruction at this time.”
Board members also expressed concerns about the current health situation.
Board President Joe DiNunzio encouraged staff to provide specifics for how Distance Learning in the 2020-21 school year will meet both the academic and the social and emotional needs of all students, and especially of those who may be furthest from opportunity.
“As we consider how we educate our students in this current environment, we need to provide special care and attention to individual needs of students and families, especially to ensure we are doing everything we can to provide equitable access to education,” DiNunzio said.
As a parent of an eight and ten year old, I understand the frustration. I understand the difficulty of trying to work from home with small children to monitor. I understand as well the difficulty of those parents who have to work and their children are now home.
But what can we do? The public—large enough segments of it—have behaved irresponsibly and have not done their civic obligation to bring this under control. The federal response is an abject failure.
As Bob Dunning put it in his weekend column: “The governor has spoken and pretty much affirmed what the Davis Joint Unified School District was going to do anyway. We can only hope that people will get serious about following the guidelines and that our kids will all be back in school soon.”
The reality—we need to do more. All of us. The U.S. perhaps alone among the major industrial nations has failed to curb the spread of COVID—that’s definitely on the government but it is also on many of us.
We can’t complain about schools and businesses closing if we are the ones acting irresponsibly. It is hurting the economy, it is hurting business, and it is hurting our kids. At some point, the damage could be irreparable.
—David M. Greenwald reporting