|photo by Demano Barcelona|
Even though it appears our chance for contracting the Coronavirus is currently low in Clark County, these many recent cancellations of public gatherings are a prudent step as studies show the earlier those things are limited, the less severe the outbreak will be. Waiting until the outbreak occurs before we cancel events is, as many have stated, like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. However, the largest gatherings that we are most reluctant to cancel are the schools, and understandably so. Many of our families depend on schools for child care and even food, and there is not equal access to technology and internet at home that might allow for education to continue through distance learning.
But I’m afraid we will wait until it is far too late for school closure to be a useful barrier to the spread of Covid-19 in our communities. The reality is, though we are grateful our children are not at much risk, they are very good at spreading illness, and they have parents who work or shop with our more vulnerable age groups. Thus, our children and teens are likely to be a huge catalyst to outbreak in our society and the death toll that goes with it. But there’s a difficult balance of caution and consequence that our government, school, and organizational leaders are grappling with day by day.
Let me suggest an alternative to closing schools that we could implement immediately and which could at least aid the prevention of large community outbreak with as little family hardships as possible, and that is voluntary distance learning. The thought came to mind after a friend was telling me they might pull their kids out of school and homeschool the rest of the semester now that he and his wife have been directed to telecommute from home. I could see how that would help protect their family and their aged mother with whom they have frequent contact, but it would have almost no community benefit unless large numbers of people did the same. I could feasibly do that for my kids, but I still want my son to get school issued credit for his geometry class that goes on his high school transcripts, and I’m sure many feel the same.
But what if schools offered and encouraged everyone who has the resources at home to finish the semester from home? Those who have adequate food supplies, adult supervision, and internet technology at home, can continue their course of study from home, receiving and delivering assignments through email, or doing assignments on the free Khan Academy website, and otherwise implementing distance education measures. Thus we could dramatically reduce the number of kids in a classroom, empowering us to implement more effective measures into the classroom that would provide the most caution against the spread of Covid-19.
Some of these protective measures could include: spacing desks out throughout the room, running air filtering devices, spraying an aerosol disinfectant during recess, not sharing writing utensils, having the teacher dispense hand sanitizer as students come or go, even serving lunch in the classroom or outside on good weather days rather than in a common cafeteria, and stagarring recess to one class at a time. You could essentially limit each student’s contacts to only the 6-12 students in their own class. At recess they could close off shared playground equipment and introduce other activities on the grass and black top that don’t require shared hand-touched surfaces. Should someone in the class or a family member then come down with coronavirus, it would be much easier to quarantine the remaining class members and their families than trying to track the entire school and their contacts. Secondary schools are more complicated with specialized classes, but perhaps having teachers rotate through classes rather than students or other inventive measures could limit students contact with other students and shared surfaces.
Additionally, those who have adult supervision and internet technology at home, but who would struggle without school lunch or breakfast, could drop by and pick up their meals from an outdoor distribution point rather than being at the school all day, such as is done in many communities during the summer months.
Another benefit of this approach could be that we redistribute our online learners to the teachers who are in higher risk age groups. They could plan assignments and keep up with student progress from home so that the ones directing the in class instruction at the schools can be only those in lower risk age groups.
This approach may bring the concern and criticism that it disproportionately exposes low income students and families to the spread of the virus, but the truth is, when compared with not cancelling school until it is too late, this approach would still greatly reduce the risk to our low income families by decreasing the school population as a whole, and would have the added benefit of allowing some of our most academically needy children to receive more one on one instruction and support with a much lower student to teacher ratio during this period of time. It also benefits our low income families with continued child care and meals while still reducing those children’s risk of contracting or spreading this infection, which of course benefits the entire community as well.
Should an outbreak become more widespread in our community, it may still come to the point where schools will have to close entirely, but this solution might provide an interim benefit to everyone involved and could delay or possibly prevent the need to close schools entirely.
With so many pros and cons, costs and benefits to consider, think this one over and if you like the idea, pass it on and maybe our district or state will consider this option.
Written by Jeanine Gee (my awesome wife)