S.E Williams | Contributor
“The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—even as the still small voice inside your head is screaming, “Don’t do it!”
As the debate over in-person learning continues to rage across the country, I admittedly shuddered when I read a press release about reopening schools from the California Department of Public Health last week.
The subject of the release, “COVID-19 and Reopening In-Person Learning Elementary Education Waiver Process,” raised a red flag in my mind.
To protect children and their families, teachers and administrators, California schools were closed to in-person instruction in mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, as the new school year is upon us, the California Department of Public Health has provided a framework for schools and school districts to reopen for in-person instruction at any time, provided of course, they are located in jurisdictions that have not been on the County Monitoring List within the previous 14 days.
Parents working from home face unique challenges, as do those in essential jobs who have limited options for the care of their children during the day. So, it is understandable reopening schools is a desirable way forward; however, there remains little understanding of potential long-term impacts of the disease on children and there are risks—though possibly not as high as it is for adults—of children spreading the virus to others. For these reasons and others, it seems prudent to continue with online learning to reduce the risk of exposing children to the virus and to help mitigate the spread of the disease. This is especially true considering the high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the inland region.
I was struck however, by the CDPH press release last week offering a, “Reopening In-Person Learning Elementary Education Waiver Process.”
The announcement was particularly concerning as it reminded me of the poor decision by local leaders just a few short weeks ago when they rallied and pushed for a more aggressive reopening of the area despite the simmering virus and the area not meeting all of the state’s requirements to do so. A waiver option offered by the state at that time, gave them the cover they needed to move ahead.
I could not help but think about the loved ones in our community who have fallen ill and/or succumbed to the disease since. I would describe them as reluctant martyrs, family members, neighbors, associates, and friends, sacrificed to gen-up an economy that continues to falter. No one will ever convince me it was worth it.
However, it appears the state is once again willing to give local jurisdictions an opportunity to gamble with the lives of residents by offering leaders yet another opportunity to seek waivers.
On the one hand, the guidelines say, “CDPH recommends that schools within jurisdictions with 14-day case rates more than two times the threshold (more than 200 cases per 100,000) on the monitoring list . . . should not be considered for a waiver to re-open in-person instruction.”
Yet, it goes on to say, “Closed elementary schools in counties on the monitoring list within the prior 14 days may not open for in-person instruction until they have received approval of a waiver submitted to the local health officer.”
It reminds me of a carefully crafted form of double-speak.
It should come as no surprise in communities across the country where schools have already reopened, many have also already “reclosed” due either students, teachers and/or administrators testing positive.
I recognize there are credible arguments for returning kids to school classrooms, especially the need to protect children in abusive homes, issues related to food insecurity and nutrition, socialization, and the educational disadvantages experienced by low income children of all ages who do not have access to technology and/ or the internet in their homes.
However, I would argue this nation had six months to consider creative alternatives to all these concerns. I believe this is a country full of brilliant minds and the ability to formulate viable options to education—even for students in depressed communities—without risking the lives of our children, their families, teachers, administrators and others in the process.
As the nation begrudgingly settles into this new normal we need to think outside the box for solutions—putting additional lives at risk, especially the lives of our children under the guise of education is anti-intuitive—it is against our basic instinct as human beings to survive, to protect our children at all costs.
We can close our eyes and pretend this is not being driven by the economy, but we all know better. This should make us question who we really are. And, what are we really racing to achieve?
We’ve already won the prize for the most irresponsible nation on the face of the earth in managing a deadly pandemic. The number of COVID-19 positive cases, outstripping most of the rest of the world combined, as well as the number of deaths in this nation is unconscionable.
When it comes to the coronavirus we need to somehow get it through our capitalist heads, more is not better. We are not winning. We are not making “America Great Again” by risking more lives for the sake of the economy is not a strategy for success.
If you do not believe it is about the economy consider this, teachers and parents will need to buy gas to transport children to and from school; school bus drivers will be back on the job buying even more gas to fill the school buses while earning their regular income to spend more on essentials and non-essentials as will teachers and administrators; farmers will be able to sell more to the schools and cafeteria workers will need to be on the job to prepare it—earning their salaries to buy more stuff whether essential or otherwise; kids will need school supplies, school clothes, wellness checks, vaccinations, and of course as is the way of America, security officers will be called upon to maintain campus security, and the list goes on.
Each action, each item on the laundry list of what must be put in motion to open the schools will turn the giant wheel of the economy. What will be considered an acceptable loss in terms of illnesses and lives lost this time around?
It appears this nation has fallen down the rabbit hole described by Lewis Carroll in his seminal work Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Yes, just like Alice’s experiences when she fell down the rabbit hole in Carroll’s childhood novel, the current circumstances are surreal.
Before the dawn of 2020, many held firm to the belief that something of this magnitude—COVID-19—could not possibly happen in America, there were too many safeguards. If someone had told us a major world-wide pandemic would be so mismanaged in this country, that millions of people would be struck by the virus, and nearly 200,000 Americans would lose their lives in less than six months; that the nation would force its children back to school even though it did not fully understand the long term health implications the virus may pose to them—most would have cried, “Impossible! Not in America.”
Perhaps when we were children ourselves, had we paid closer attention to the conversation between Carroll’s Alice and the ‘White Queen’ we would have a better understanding of what happens when you fall into a rabbit hole where everything is upside down and backwards. We would have learned about the need to believe that nothing is impossible and perhaps we would have taken more aggressive steps to contain COVID-19 and be in a better position than we are today.
“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.
S.E. Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.