3 minute read

Things changed for me yesterday. The CDC’s “comprehensive science-based plan” for school reopening, and a New York Times survey of 175 pediatric disease specialists regarding what is important for reopening. Both strongly indicate that we can and should reopen schools, and they do so from a place of science and concensus.

While my concerns about reopening from the community’s perspective is lessened with these two things - my concerns about JCPS’ ability to adhere to them and the pursuant risks still present for teachers and families are not.

With clarity from leadership and science present, the work to close the gaps and address family issues is much clearer.

The CDC guidelines are similar to those in the past, but with notable revelations. The survey, conducted prior to the release of the guidelines, echo the guidelines. The two together provide for me two things lacking from prior conversation: science-based priorities and critical risk assessment.

Notable points:

  • 86% of the experts polled feel that safely reopening schools with masking and social distancing is not only possible, it’s advised.
  • “Although these experts specialized in children’s physical health, many concluded that the risks to mental health, social skills and education outweighed the risks of the virus.”
  • Masks and social distancing ranked clear #1 and #2 most critical efforts to be made.
  • Vaccines for teachers (or students) are not considered critical by the guidelines or the disease experts.
  • Community infection rate is not as high a priority as previously considered.

For me, these clear definitions of priority and risk assessments largely settle the arguments swirling around at every level (personal, local, state, federal).

(Note: Some experts, including the senior author of the Wisconsin schools study believes the CDCs guidelines are too restrictive. Their criticisms appear to align with the results of the survey.)

Regarding JCPS - vaccination of teachers and community infection rates are two things that have been widely adopted as critcal by local officials, unions and parent groups. This is clear guidance that - at a community level - they are not as critical to “safely reopening”.

I feel confident in their assessment that at a community level reopening can be done safely. But…

But… neither the CDC guidelines nor this survey relieve JCPS from the challenges that their plan will continue to have with social distancing, or the concerns from individual teachers and families. I do feel that these guidelines and reports provide clearer priorities for the critical discussions and negotiations those parties.

As the survey report highlighted: “Just because school opening isn’t causing higher levels of community transmission doesn’t mean that there isn’t individual risk to teachers and staff”.

Personally, I have been at near-zero risk for contracting or spreading the disease for nearly a year having had the privlege of working from home and doing everything I can to not catch or spread the virus. With school reopening, the risk to my family - especially if JCPS cannot mitigate the gaps in their planning - essentially triples.

For teachers with families, many of whom who have been at home like me, this increase in risk is even higher, and so far without much acknowledgement (or compensation).

The concerns about JCPS’ ability to enforce masking (the #1 most important prevention factor) and social distancing (#2) are still here, and are very real. As the NPR article mentions: “mask use dropped precipitously elsewhere, from just 42% on school buses and 40% in restrooms to 36% in the cafeteria”.

This week, JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio is formulating his recommendation that will be provided to the JCPS Board of Education at the next public meeting on Tuesday, February 16th at 6PM. Note: They will not vote that day, but at “a later date”.

While there will remain concerns, the skies are finally lightening with science and leadership.

My hope is that with this information and further guidance, JCPS can mitigate the gaps in the planning and the various concerns with families and teachers to get back to in-person school. That’s the work that will get us back into school.

We must not forget that there are still those that are vulnerable outside the walls of the school.

With that, I am still hesistant to send my children back to school until my wife and I are vaccinated, and I am concerned for those teachers who are in the same spot.