Viewpoint: Our Schools Need to Reopen

Palisades Elementary, a LAUSD Charter School, needs to reopen in the fall.

When I lived in New York City in my 20s, a good friend who had just moved back from California referred to the people here as “provincial,” meaning that they were unsophisticated and narrow minded.

She was referring to the lack of cultural sophistication – museums, art, ballet and opera – at that time. Her comment came to mind Monday when LAUSD School Superintendent Austin Buetner announced “While the new school year will begin in August, it will not start with students at school facilities. The health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise. The news about the spread of the virus continues to be of great concern. Last week was the worst yet in the Los Angeles area.”

According to the L.A. County Department of Public Health website, an average of at least 15,000 tests had been done over the past seven days, the three-day average of hospitalized patients has not increased over the past 14 days and the seven-day average number of deaths has not increased over the past 14 days.

Well, maybe Buetner was referring to the stats from European and Asian countries that have reopened schools. In a July 7 Science Magazine story (“School Openings Across Globe Suggest Ways to Keep Coronavirus at Bay, Despite Outbreaks”), a letter from the members of the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health wrote “continued closures risk ‘scarring the life chances of a generation of young people.’”

The story (visit: sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/school-openings-across-globe-suggest-ways-keep-coronavirus-bay-despite-outbreaks) noted that more than 20 countries had resumed school and that others including Taiwan, Nicaragua and Sweden, never closed.

The magazine looked at reopening strategies from South Africa to Finland to Israel, and noticed that keeping student groups small, requiring masks and some social distancing was successful and that younger children rarely spread the virus to one another or bring it home.

The article stated: “’Outbreaks in schools are inevitable,’ said Otto Helve, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. So far, with some changes to schools’ daily routines, he says, the benefits of attending school seem to outweigh the risks—at least where community infection rates are low and officials are standing by to identify and isolate cases and close contacts.”

The authors asked if schools then spread the virus to the wider community? They answered, “In Denmark, nationwide case numbers continued to decline after day-care centers and elementary schools opened on 15 April, and middle and high schools followed in May.

“In the Netherlands, new cases stayed flat and then dropped after elementary schools opened part-time on 11 May and high schools opened on 2 June. In Finland, Belgium, and Austria, too, officials say they found no evidence of increased spread of the novel coronavirus after schools reopened.”

Well perhaps Buetner is taking advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics?

No, because in a June 30 New York Times story (“Why a Pediatric Group is Pushing to Reopen Schools This Fall,”) author Dr. Sean O’Leary, wrote: “Reopening schools is so important for the kids, but really for the entire community. So much of our world relies on kids being in school and parents being able to work.

“Trying to work from home with the kids home is disproportionately impacting women. So, it goes beyond just the health of the child, which is, of course, very important. As a country, we should be doing everything we can right now, for lots of reasons, to make sure we can safely reopen schools in the fall.” (Visit: nytimes.com/2020/06/30/us/coronavirus-schools-reopening-guidelines-aap.html)

The June 22 Wall Street Journal editorial (“Failure in the Virtual Classroom”), cited a report from the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education that looked at 477 school districts nationwide and virtual learning.

The report said that only 27 percent of districts required teachers to record whether students participate in remote classes. “During the first two weeks of the shutdown, some 15,000 Los Angeles students failed to show up for classes or do any schoolwork.”

“United Teachers Los Angeles lobbied for no student to receive a failing grade, or a worse grade than they had before the shutdowns.”

And the District Teachers Association for the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District wrote that “in effect, assigning letter grades to our students is equal to assessing their access to technology and Wi-Fi, their housing security and ableism.”

The WSJ wrote “The least privileged kids will be stuck.” And they will. Public education has been the one way to advance economically in the United States.

If we can figure out how to keep a clerk safe at Gelson’s and the Post Office, I’m sure that Buetner and his school board, with help from the teachers’ unions, can figure out a way to keep teachers safe.

Because this decision by LAUSD is really about the teachers and the unions – it’s not about the students and their welfare.

In 2013, television pundit Don Lemon commented “A high school dropout makes on average $19,000 a year, a high school graduate makes $28,000 a year, a college graduate makes $51,000 a year. Over the course of a career, a college grad will make nearly $1 million more than a high school graduate.” This was fact-checked with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found to be true.

This takes us back to provincialism and my belief that it’s time for LAUSD to worm its way out of narrow-mindedness and figure out how to make in-classroom education happen this fall.

Because it is the economically disadvantaged who will suffer—the poor, those who must work outside the home and can’t afford childcare, and those who have multiple kids in a household who must share a computer trying to log onto classes.

Rich parents, of which there are plenty in the Palisades, can afford tutoring, or private schools, which most likely will start again in the fall. The majority of those attending LAUSD are not so lucky

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6 Responses to Viewpoint: Our Schools Need to Reopen

  1. Ellen Rudolph says:

    Sue,

    Shame on you for leaving out the most important word there is in your header: SAFELY! It demonstrates your lack of appreciation for the health of teachers, custodians, bus drivers, parents, and extended, multi-generational families, not to mention kids, some of whom do get sick.

    Have you heard a single person say they don’t want schools to reopen…safely? I didn’t think so.

    The trick is how. You offer no solutions and don’t even seem to pose any useful questions. You think it’s easy figuring out bussing, scheduling, logistics, hygiene, and physical distancing when class sizes reach or exceed 40 kids? You think the problem is that Californians are provincial? Seriously?! Pretty condescending.

    And we’re getting such great support from our federal government, in the form of threats to defund. Open up, or else! Bullying and no meaningful help. Classy. NOT! DeVos knows NOTHING about public schools and cares less. Unfit to serve, like the entire administration.

    This CAN be managed. A way forward CAN be found. It requires tons of collaborative work be done. Of course low income kids are hurt most by this tragedy, which is largely due to a federal government that stokes inequality. Tell us something we don’t know.

    Your stone throwing is starting to really piss me off.

    And again, not interested in having my comments published. Too many crazies out there—especially these days. Thanks for listening.

  2. Michael Minky says:

    “If we can figure out how to keep a clerk safe at Gelson’s …” One of our Gelson clerks passed away for the virus.

  3. Sue says:

    Michael,

    The man who passed away worked in the meat department away from the rest of the clerks and had underlying health conditions.

    Sue

  4. Sue says:

    Ellen,

    For children, the risks they face by not having school, especially those in the lower economic bracket, are devastating. If you want to see how Palisadians are handling this latest news go to Nextdoor and see how many people are hiring teachers for their kids this fall.

    My parents are both teachers. My niece was just hired as a teacher and she has underlying conditions, so I get teacher safety. But, if my “stone-throwing,” which is aimed at helping poor people in Los Angeles, pisses some off. So be it.

    My niece has three children, two computers. I asked the youngest the hardest thing about being home–since he was only the second grader, the other kids had priority on the computer, it wasn’t his turn very often. Unless LAUSD can give every kid a computer, virtual education is a joke.

    I don’t proclaim to be an expert on safety–but if other countries can do it, why don’t we copy them?

    Sue

  5. Jon Calhoun says:

    Take advice from Sweden? I don’t think so. Johns Hopkins reports the following Covid “deaths per 100,000 population”:
    U.K. : 67.55
    Sweden: 54.36
    U.S. : 41.45
    Denmark: 10.52
    Finland: 5.96
    Norway: 4.76

    We know how deplorable lack of leadership contributed to the U.K. and U.S. figures. The results of Sweden’s “go for it” policy speaks volumes. And, Denmark doesn’t provide a comparable model for opening our overcrowded schools. The average elementary school class size there is 19, with a pupil-teacher ratio of 10:4! That allows for a lot of options that simply are not available to the LAUSD. Your comparing of apples and oranges is sound bite stuff, not realistic analysis.

  6. Sue says:

    Jon,

    I always try to look for solutions rather than find reasons for not doing something. If pediatricians in all the major countries are saying kids should be in school, then we need to find out how to make it happen. In the meantime, some LA private schools are opening, and other parents who have means, are hiring teachers for the coming year. Tell me how that helps the poorest in this society?

    Sue

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