An Open Letter on School Reopening in NMUSD:
July 15, 2020
Having just attended the school board meeting, here are some of my thoughts.
The initial study sessions on reopening led to the presentation of the 40% and 50% hybrid models to the board in June. Contingent upon declining infection rates, both those plans seemed reasonable as they resonated with what I’ve learned about covid so far.
The board and many others wanted all kids in school every day; thus the new “hybrid”, including level 2 where all kids are on campus every day (minus those enrolled in virtual school), which isn’t really a hybrid in relation to how the term is being used at school districts across the country to describe reopening plans. It’s an important distinction because the hybrid models like the initial ones brought to the board by the District and it’s reopening committee were taking CDC recommendations into account in the practical sense; they inherently addressed space issues and allowed for effectively implemented social distancing. They lessened the amount of people on a school campus at one time, and made it feasible to clean, sterilize, and sanitize. Simply stated a hybrid model is a more cautious approach. It’s safer.
Everyone wants to keep everyone safe. And we are told we will only return when it’s safe. I am not questioning that. The board wants to keep us safe too.
No one saw this coming. The decisions being made now are either going to cause very few deaths, or an increased amount that could be avoided with more realistic and cautious planning.
No one, in any position, or on Any Board, USA is “prepared” for these decisions. Not only that, America right now is out of sorts; excessively divided. When compared to other nations we have not done as well preventing the spread of covid.
In my judgment, people are still not fully absorbing the seriousness of covid; and regular well-meaning people are still resistant to the full extent of the situation we’re in. Subjective as it may be, last night I did not sense or observe a reassuring level of gravity within the board’s discussions about and surrounding reopening. I heard one member say “unless the governor shuts things down, and if it gets a little better...” we want all the kids there (at school). To me it resembles a kind of pervasive denial pretty common lately, not an indication of a lack of wanting to do the right thing; nor a lack of wanting to keep everyone...safe.
I also heard a public comment that was compelling and seductively posed with a false equivalency. I know it resonates with many parents, and some teachers too. “When it comes to choosing between 30 kids and 1 teacher, I think it’s a pretty easy choice.” Most adults would jump in and save the life of a single child at their own risk in a heartbeat. If that were the actual trade-off. The implication of this comment and the false narrative it suggests belies what we’re up against in the community and in our nation. But if we reopen more wisely, we can prevent some illness and death AND eventually help children catch up. And we can do so in a relatively short period of time. The benefit for the child in this scenario, by the way, is living in a country where people care more about their fellow man, and work united together to spare one another from pandemic illness.
To be exceptional in our response to covid, and protect ourselves and our community, we must establish objective criteria for the safe reopening of school. It needs to be specific and according to CDC guidelines. If we do not step in and determine what science and communicable disease experts qualify as “safe”, defining it exactly, we run the risk of reopening at a time when, had we waited, some illness and death could have been prevented.
It’s not enough of an assurance that this concept was alluded to generally last night by two board members, and that the need for criteria to be formulated eventually was confirmed by Mr. Lee-Sung.
We need leadership and wisdom right now, that comes from inward and compensates for those that are doing their best but missing the mark where the most current scientific guidance needs to be placed.
NMFT Executive Board