Last updated 7/29/2020 at 4:09pm
Anyone who watched school board member Courtney Domokur’s heartfelt explanation Monday evening as to why schools should be reopened for students on Aug. 17 witnessed how deeply invested school board members have been in trying to make the right decision and how agonizing it has been to make such a decision.
As school board member Alice Wellborn said, “There’s no good choice.” Indeed, each option has significant perils.
Under Plan B, students can return to the classroom and receive the much needed face-to-face instruction, adult support, hot meals, exercise and socialization they so desperately need. For many students, school is their safe haven. Even for those who live in safe households with supportive parents, school provides benefits that cannot be gained elsewhere.
Having hundreds of students return to school, however, is a significant risk. Having students in relatively close quarters with other students and teachers, some of whom fall into the high-risk category, for six hours a day is far more likely to present opportunities for transmission of the coronavirus than a one-hour trip each week by adults to the grocery store. And while children seem to be much less affected by COVID-19 than adults, The Hill, an online publication, reported Tuesday “that Florida’s health department released data on Monday that showed hospitalizations among children in the state rose by more than 20 percent over an eight-day period in July.” Regardless of how many protective protocols are put in place as students return to the classroom, it’s not a question of whether or not the virus will spread in schools throughout North Carolina and eventually take the life of a student, teacher, parent or live-in relative; it’s a question of when and how many.
Under Plan C, health concerns related to COVID-19 would have been reduced to nearly nil as far as schools are concerned. Remote instruction should be substantially better given that teachers have had more time to prepare online lessons, expectations for students and parents should be clearer, and students will be graded for their online work.
On the other hand, at least 10 percent of the students who do not have reliable internet connections would fall farther behind academically. And no matter how good the online instruction is, many students with even good internet connections could lose academic ground because their parents cannot provide the same level of help their teachers can in a face-to-face environment. And there will be, as Wellborn said, more children who are not safe because they will be restricted to unhealthy home environments where abuse and malnutrition exist. They will have no safe haven.
It’s understandable why the board voted for Plan B. It gives parents the option of either sending their children to school for two days a week or keeping them home.
Now, however, parents face a potentially agonizing decision – do they send their children to school or keep them home? For some, the decision will be easy, but for many, it will not. And they don’t have much time. Enrollment for the online learning path ends July 31. That’s not much time to make a decision that will impact a child’s academic, social, emotional, mental and physical well-being for the next semester, and possibly beyond. Depending upon what happens during the first semester, some parents may regret their decision.
Some teachers, especially those who are older or fall into the high-risk category, also are going to have to make some difficult decisions, for they are the ones whose health and lives may be most endangered by schools reopening.
Even if Plan B works out surprisingly well with just a few minor glitches, it is going to put additional stress on teachers, parents and students. Parents are still going to have to find someone to care for their elementary age children three days out of the week and children will still need an adult at home to fill the role of teacher assistant.
In the coming months, the school board, as well as other local leaders, will have to make difficult decisions. We may disagree with their decisions and we do not have to support their decisions, but we should understand that they have been placed in the most difficult of situations and are doing the best they can. Anyone who watched Monday night’s school board meeting should recognize that.