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The coronavirus might not be the worst of it
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Teacher: ‘Parents need to go to work’ does not stop covid-19 at the school entrance

Middle schoolers attend a lesson in their classroom on June 22 in Boulogne-Billancourt, outside Paris, as primary and middle schools reopen in France after six weeks of unsteady school sessions and more than three months of class at home during the coronavirus pandemic. (Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)
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When/if/how will K-12 school open? That’s the big subject on the minds of millions of parents, students, teachers, administrators et al. as fall approaches.

School districts are still making plans, which are largely being written in pencil given that nobody knows what the coronavirus infection status will be in any particular community and whether schools can open safely.

We hear calls that schools must open, given that millions of students are at risk of not only backsliding academically but also socially and emotionally, with the most concern for at-risk students for whom school is a safe place.

We also hear that parents need to get back to work and can’t stay home teaching their children math remotely, should schools stay closed.

That line of thinking is what Mercedes Schneider, a veteran teacher and education researcher, looks at in the post below. Schneider teaches high school English in St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana, writes the deutsch29 blog on education, and has written four books on education, including “A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.” This appeared on her blog, and she gave me permission to publish it.

By Mercedes Schneider

When I hear discussions about schools reopening in the fall, I already know what two chief reasons will be offered.

One is that students need to be educated. Of course they do, and as a career teacher, I desire to educate. I have dedicated my professional life to educating generations of children, and I miss being at school, in my classroom, with my students.

The second reason, which seems to follow quickly on the heels of the first, is that “parents need to get back to work” — the implication being that schools need to open so that parents once again have the built-in child care that the K-12 school day (and its auxiliary programs) offers.

That “parents need to get back to work” reason never seems to include the reality that in this time of international health crisis, expecting schools to offer uninterrupted, on-site education defies reality.

Schools and school systems nationwide (indeed, worldwide) are trying to navigate providing education to students during the coronavirus pandemic.

That navigation almost certainly includes a remote learning component. That means that not only might students be receiving instruction at home, but parents, guardians, and/or other caregivers will need to be available to care for children during the school day and to assist them with their remote learning.

In other words, it is completely unrealistic to expect schools to open and to stay open without interruption in 2020-21.

What is realistic is that schools may open and may have to close if they cannot function due to teacher, administrator, and staff shortages from their contracting coronavirus; or if the threat of such contracting is deemed imminent and schools are shuttered proactively; or even if too many adults are exposed to a person with coronavirus and must quarantine for a couple of weeks.

Think about that. It is possible that a student in my room contracts the coronavirus. One student. Let’s say that student has been in contact with at least one classroom of 10 students (small, I know, but stay with me) and rides a bus with 20 other students (and with a bus driver) and has class with six teachers per day. So, right there, we have at least 37 individuals needing to be quarantined — six of whom are responsible for instruction.

Furthermore, if a teacher contracts the coronavirus, then all of that teacher’s students (and likely some colleagues) must be quarantined to curtail a super-spreader situation.

Add to all of that the possibility that a teacher or student returning from quarantine will be exposed yet again and have to head right back into quarantine.

We haven’t even touched on what happens if the entire administration and office staff of a school are exposed and the heart of school operations must be quarantined.

None of this is a recipe for a stable, on-site, schooling experience.

For me to continue to teach (and for my students to continue to learn) while in quarantine, my school must have a plan in place for me to teach (and for students to learn) remotely.

Remote instruction is not an ideal. I prefer interacting with my students in person. It is definitely easier to build a student-teacher relationship in person, and that relationship is a vital conduit to persuade students to invest in their own learning. But it is what we have to work with in the face of this pandemic.

America is planning to educate its K-12 students in 2020-21, even if it’s in our respective living rooms.

Therefore, to those tempted to view K-12 school as solid, reliable child care “if only the schools will open,” think again.

The coronavirus will not stop at the school door because America is tired of being inconvenienced.

If only it would.

After 13 summers, one D.C. summer camp has reinvented itself by introducing a "pod" structure — groupings of children — so that campers can safely gather. (Video: The Washington Post)