Home > Uncategorized > Looking for Clear Advice on Reopening? WaPo’s Valerie Strauss Could be the Answer You Are Looking For!

Looking for Clear Advice on Reopening? WaPo’s Valerie Strauss Could be the Answer You Are Looking For!

July 27, 2020

As I noted at the conclusion of my earlier post, I am dismayed that the epidemiologists at the CDC caved to the pressure from the POTUS and issued a set of mushy suggestions instead of guidelines or, better yet for decision makers, firm recommendations. Had the CDC issued recommendations there would be one standard on how best to open schools…. instead the POTUS argues that “one size fits all” standards don’t make sense and so he delegates standard setting to Governors most of whom, in turn, use “local control” as the basis for delegating the decisions downward… The buck on decision making regarding reopening gets passed… but the bucks from Washington or the State Capitols seem to get lost…. and so local school boards will have to figure out the standards THEY will use, how to meet those standards and defend them, how to address the parents’ concerns about safety, how to enforce health and safety standards THEY set— like the wearing of face masks, and how to pay for all of this on their own. It is clear that the real leaders on the reopening of schools are in our 13,000+ local school boards… and it is equally clear that the 13,000+ school districts lack the epidemiological expertise to make this life or death decision.

In the absence of having a staff epidemiologist, schools could look to the Answer Sheet’s Valerie Strauss, the Washington Post blogger who offers periodic insights on what is REALLY going on in education. In a post written on July 25, Ms Strauss offered 10 recommendations from epidemiologists NOT under pressure from politicians on how to safely reopen schools. Those two are Wendy Armstrong, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University’s School of Medicine, and Tina Tan, professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Both are board members of the Infectious Disease Society of America. These two experts participated in a virtual town hall meeting facilitated by former Secretary of Education John King and as a result of that session Ms. Strauss identified 10 recommendations which are summarized below, with #9 highlighted for obvious reasons:

1. Schools cannot be opened safely for in-person instruction if the virus is not contained in the local community.

2. The decision to open schools has to be a local decision based on the latest available, local scientific data.

3. Infection rates for children aged 10 to 19 are similar to infection rates for adults 20 to 49.

4. Schools need well-developed protocols for reopening and for steps to follow if the virus appears in a school.

5. Schools should consider strategies that encourage cocooning, staggered drop-off and pickup times, social distancing on buses and making best use of ventilation.

6. A Vaccine in unlikely to bail us out since there is no possibility of a vaccine appearing in the next 6-8 weeks.

7. Teachers in schools need protection but so do nonteaching staff.

8. Extracurricular activities are going to be an extremely challenging area for school safety.

9. The costs of attending to all this are astronomical, at a time when state and local revenues will decline due to the crippling unemployment and recession accompanying the pandemic.

10. The town hall audience was skeptical that it would be safe for students and educators if all schools fully reopened at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

As this list indicates, the challenges for local school boards are logistically and financially daunting… and the lack of uniform medical standards for reopening add a political dimension to each and every decision they need to make. For example, here are some decision points that appear to be grounded in science but, in fact, require some degree of politics:

  • How will the local school board determine if “the virus is contained in the local area”?
  • Where will a local school board find “the latest available local scientific data?”
  • How will any schools that are “poorly ventilated” be able to open and what standard will be used to determine if a school’s ventilation is sufficient?

And the development of protocols, decisions on whether to offer extracurriculars, on how to protect employees, are all ones that are far easier to make at a State or regional level than at the local level. If District A decides to offer sports but neighboring District B doesn’t, the political pressure on District Bs school board will be immense. If District A decides to schedule bus routes based on the premise that students will be socially distanced but District B decides to run buses as is on the premise that parents will likely transport their children, District A will be adding a cost burden that District B avoids. And as for masks, we have already witnessed the political peril governors face when they mandate masks…

The easiest way to keep politics out of local decision making is to have the States decide on firm standards and hold districts accountable for meeting those standards. Otherwise, there will be a hodgepodge of rules and regulations that will vary district by district and… given the reality described in #9, pressure to compromise student and staff safety in order to avoid incurring higher costs.

 

 

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