Schools Should Be Online This Fall

Posted on August 09, 2020 · 9 mins read


It’s now August, and the new school year is rapidly approaching. Schools had shut down last spring due to Coronavirus, but unfortunately, the virus is still here this summer and not likely to get better any time soon. Over 150,000 people have died of COVID-19 nationwide, and the number is predicted to reach 300,000 by the end of the year due to the atrocious response by state and federal governments. And that’s just deaths – it doesn’t including the hundreds of thousands who have been hospitalized and will potentially face long-term problems such as heart damage, lung damage, and even reports of neurological damage. Research by the CDC finds that children are just as susceptible to severe COVID-19 complications as adults, and there’s growing concerns that COVID-19 might trigger multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare, poorly understood condition.

As such, I firmly believe that school districts should NOT be opening for face-to-face instruction at this time. It is simply too much of a risk to students, teachers, and staff. The long-term consequences of catching COVID-19 are still poorly understood. Vaccines will likely begin to be available early next year; we’re not looking at a forever sort of scenario, but we’re still months out. The best precaution in my view would be to plan for remote learning this fall and winter, with the goal of re-opening next spring if the conditions are right and a vaccine is available. We’ve got to do more to contain the virus, and physically re-opening schools is exactly what not to do when trying to contain a contagious, airborne virus.

In the 45th district where I am running for state representative, only one district is planning to start the school year with fully remote learning for all students: Carlynton School District. Carlynton is planning for a fully remote start for several weeks through at least the end of September, and has already stated it will extend the remote learning period depending on conditions. I commend the district board of directors and superintendent for making this tough decision, but I believe it to the be the correct one in the best interests of everyone at the school district. I hope the decision is made to extend the remote learning through the end of calendar year.

Unfortunately, the other districts have announced some level of re-opening of face-to-face classes. The StoRox, Montour, and Chartiers Valley School Districts are all planning to offer both face-to-face classes AND some form of remote, online academy learning. Parents must request the remote online academy option if that is their preference. While I’m glad the schools will have remote capability, the face-to-face classes for those that attend will still put students, teachers, and staff at risk. I believe this to be an unacceptable model and encourage these school districts to utilize their remote learning setups to enact a fully remote learning model this fall.

Avonworth and Cornell School Districts are planning a “hybrid” model in which students are separated into two groups, with some students attending shorter morning classes then going home to do independent work in the afternoon, while the other group of students will do independent work in the morning then come in for face-to-face classes in the afternoon. I don’t understand what advantage there is to this model, it just makes the situation more complicated. The virus is known to be airborne and can be easily transmitted through ventilation systems in enclosed spaces like classrooms. Hypothetically a student could bring Coronavirus to the school in the morning, then when the classes change, the afternoon group could be exposed to the same Coronavirus via ventilation systems, leading to the whole school still becoming infected. I believe the hybrid model is also an unacceptable model, and encourage these school districts to also plan for a fully remote learning model immediately this fall.

Since I live in the Cornell School District, I sent the following response to the Cornell Superintendent and School Board:

I am writing to urge the Cornell board of directors to adopt a fully remote curriculum for the start of the 2020-2021 school year. I don’t believe the “hybrid” model as proposed will offer significant protections from the virus due to its airborne transmission method. The school’s ventilation systems and enclosed spaces make it a much higher risk of rapid transmission should the virus be introduced to the building. Rotating students between morning and afternoon will not protect them if the building becomes infected, all that enter at any time of day could be exposed. This rotation also does nothing to protect the teachers and staff that will be present all day every day.

Moving to a fully remote start to the school year would not be unprecedented; Carlynton School District for example is planning to offer a fully remote learning model for all students for at least the first month of the school year, and may extend it depending on conditions. I believe this is the right strategy to take, and hope that Cornell School District adopts a similar approach.

I know this is a hard decision that will require a lot of thinking outside the box and will present challenges for all involved, but I believe it to be the only answer to keep our students, teachers, and staff all safe. We still don’t know all of the health effects of catching COVID-19, but we do know that apart from risk of death, reports of long-term respiratory, cardiovascular, and even neurological damage in some patients show that this is not a virus to take lightly. The challenges involved with a remote curriculum are better than the challenges and consequences that will be faced if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 within the school. COVID-19 can spread rapidly, and because patients appear to be infectious before showing symptoms, can infect a large part of the school before we’re even aware and are able to take action. It simply isn’t safe to re-open with face-to-face instruction at this time.

I hope the board of directors will consider the evidence and vote No on a “hybrid” model, and instead work for a fully remote start to the new school year. Thank you.

I hope that all school districts will take all precautions and plan for a remote learning start to the school year, taking the lead from Carlynton. If you are a parent of the other districts, please contact the school and demand the remote learning option, not just for your child but for all children, as well as teachers and staff.

I understand the extra costs involved in moving to virtual classes, however. We’ve got to make sure every student has a computer and good Internet access for this to work. Not every family has a good Internet connection or a computer at home; many students rely on their schools or their local library to access the Internet, but those are not options available until the COVID-19 crisis passes. As such, I call on the state legislature to authorize emergency funding for all school districts so every student can be given a laptop or device with a good internet connection to participate in classes from home this school year. If I were elected, I’d be introducing a bill to do this right now.

UPDATE 8/22, 7pm: Added links to new outbreak of COVID-19 at Montour School District, and added a statement calling on the state legislature to provide funding for virtual classes this year.

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