By David M. Greenwald
It is one of the most contentious issues, not only in our community but across the country—when and under what circumstances to allow children to attend school in person. There is a group pushing hard to re-open schools now. They took to the streets to protest and push for re-opening, and they called in to two meetings this week to push for it—at the school board meetings as well.
Hey, I sympathize. After all, it has been, as a parent during this pandemic, a real struggle to get my kids to engage, to go to class, to do their work. More importantly, they miss their friends, their sports, their activities. The everyday engagement. Getting out of the house.
We live in a community that highly values education and pushes their kids and schools extraordinarily hard to achieve high levels of accomplishment.
But there is another side to this—a deadly pandemic. A pandemic that we have not taken as a whole country as seriously as we should have. And some of that does not apply to this community, which seems to have done better than most in terms of numbers and compliance.
As noted in yesterday’s column, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it appears distant—we may be talking about September by the time huge portions of the general public are vaccinated.
Parents pushing for opening the schools are arguing there is research that children are less susceptible and less likely to spread COVID. Personally, I don’t think we know enough to make definitive determinations. Moreover, with a new more easily spreadable strain—and potentially more deadly—it seems now is not the best time to take risks.
While I am critical of a number of things involving DJUSD these days, I think their risk-averse approach is the appropriate one.
Superintendent John Bowes sent out an email on Friday that lays out the conditions that must be in place to move forward with a hybrid return, as passed in a motion this past week.
There are conditions within the control of the district.
The district must have four criteria in place:
- Establish asymptomatic COVID-19 testing for students and staff on or near each campus;
- Set up classrooms for 6-foot or greater distancing, and install MERV-13 filters and air purifiers;
- Ensure safety protocols are in place per Cal/OSHA COVID-19 requirements; and
- Define processes for notification, quarantine, and contact tracing.
As Superintendent Bowes points out: “Much of the work that needs to take place to be ready for a return to campus is already underway.”
He explained: “DJUSD has successfully worked with Healthy Davis Together to roll out free saliva-based COVID-19 testing for each of our campuses.
“We currently have four campus testing sites operational and are working on hiring and training staff to meet the full demand for when students and staff return,” Bowes continued. “DJUSD has provisioned all HVAC units with MERV-13 filters and, with the assistance of Healthy Davis Together, we are deploying air purifiers to each classroom and office.”
Outside of their control, however, is that Yolo County must be in the Red Tier for at least two weeks and, “Teachers and staff who are being asked to return have had access to both doses of an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, and are provided with up to two weeks for recovery following the second vaccine.”
The last two are vitally important. The first requires that the community have COVID under control—it just doesn’t make sense to open things back up when COVID is running out of control in our community.
People can argue that children do not spread COVID as easily, and that may or may not be true. Again, I don’t think we have data as good as we need here, but, more importantly, think about all of the community mixing that would take place with parents dropping off students every day, district personnel being on campus—even with other precautions in place, if we are still getting 155 new cases a day, it’s hard to argue that’s a safe arrangement.
The second part protects the teachers—they will have received their vaccines and thus will neither get sick nor are they likely to spread it to the rest of the community.
Waiting until the transmission starts to push back into red makes a ton of sense.
The hybrid model makes sense. It is largely triggered by the need for 6-foot distancing and therefore the need to reduce seating capacity in classrooms. This allows classes to break into smaller cohorts of students and for periods of time that are reduced.
One thing I worry about is that, even with distancing and better ventilation, the sheer length of potential exposure to a sick person is likely to pose a risk—a hybrid model would reduce that risk, but not necessarily eliminate it.
One of my suggestions continues to be to run the clock here. Delay things until later in the spring and consider extending education into the summer in order to allow for a reduction of infection and more vaccine to get out to the community.
So far we have not taken that particular approach. I am concerned about at-risk and disadvantaged children falling further behind and would like to see the district also come up with a plan—once COVID ends, if it ever does—to catch those kids up.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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