But, seriously — what is this country going to do with its kids this fall?

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The social contract has failed and the sky is literally falling on the nation’s schoolchildren. Again.

If it feels like this newsletter is writing a doom and gloom story every week about schools for the nation’s children (or lack thereof) … we are.

Except the difference this week is that summer is already over for a lot of kids.

They must go back! And yet, it still feels too soon.

Here’s why:

Teachers need to teach, too

One major hurdle to reopening classrooms (the major hurdle?) is creating a safe environment for teachers, who might be older and/or at-risk.

Multiple people have referred me to this story in The Atlantic, written by a New York City nurse who is married to a New York City teacher, where she argues, convincingly, that teachers need to show up. It’s go time.

I can understand that teachers are nervous about returning to school. But they should take a cue from their fellow essential workers and do their job. Even people who think there’s a fundamental difference between a nurse and a teacher in a pandemic must realize that there isn’t one between a grocery-store worker and a teacher, in terms of obligation. People who work at grocery stores in no way signed up to expose themselves to disease, but we expected them to go to work, and they did. If they had not, society would have collapsed. What do teachers think will happen if working parents cannot send their children to school? Life as we know it simply will not go on.

Taxes are paying teachers salaries. Teachers should be teaching. That’s something I hear from other parents a lot. Teachers, please direct your hate mail to [email protected] But stick with me. We’re getting to your side shortly.

Also, for a solid look at the effect of Covid on local tax bases around the country, click here.

Covid is misogynist

Who will stop working if kids stay home? There’s a high-level economic report from Goldman Sachs that boils down to this CNN headline: “Many parents may have to stop working entirely if schools don’t reopen, Goldman Sachs says.”

No kidding, said every parent who has to leave the home for work and a large portion of those who don’t.

But there’s a gender element lurking that deserves consideration.

Writes CNN’s Anneken Tappe of the report:

Since May, some 7 million people per week have not worked because they didn’t have access to childcare, according to data from the Census Household Pulse Survey, a number that accounts for about 14% of virus-related reasons for missing working.

Historically, childcare policies have affected people’s participation in the labor force and, unfortunately, women are more affected by it than men. While the gender split in the US labor force was roughly 50:50 women and men late last year, Covid could tilt the scales back in favor of men.

That’s no good for anyone.

The inequality is growing before our eyes

Seriously. While writing this newsletter, I got a voicemail from my kids’ school district informing me they would be offering the “Virtual Plus+” model in the fall.

They’re promising child care help for those who need it. Details forthcoming.

Meanwhile, parents of younger kids who can afford it are looking at just-launched kindergarten programs being offered by private daycare centers, hiring summer camp counselors to pod with groups of families in the fall and just generally getting creative in ways that cost money.

Read this from Erin Bromage, the biology professor at the University of Massachusetts whose guidance on when and how to do things safely is a weekly must-read.

He says he’ll absolutely send his kids back to school, with this caveat: “If community transmission in my area remains low.”

But the thrust of what he wants to say is something else entirely:

“I recognize and have to admit to my privilege. My children attend a private school with the resources to reopen in a manner that will maximize the chance that they, their classmates and the staff at the school will remain infection-free.

Even with the resources on hand, the teachers at my children’s school are nervous for their health and safety. And rightfully so — if you have kids and you don’t have nerves about schools restarting, then you aren’t fully appreciating the situation that teachers, staff and your household are facing.”

But a lot can go so wrong

And with that we come to part two of this edition, which is that for every argument that the kids must go back, there’s an argument that it’s too risky right now in so many places.

Chicago’s schools, facing a potential teacher strike, announced their students would be all-virtual to start the fall, which means only New York, among the nation’s largest school districts, is still trying to do some sort of hybrid model.

And the obstacles to New York’s September 10 open date are many, as The New York Times wrote Wednesday.

Just a few of the hurdles they mention: “There are not yet enough nurses to staff all city school buildings, and ventilation systems in aging buildings are in urgent need of upgrades. There may not even be enough teachers available to offer in-person instruction.”

If you haven’t seen that viral photo of the hallway in a Georgia high school that’s already back in session, you should take a look at it and think about social distancing among kids.

That’s just one thing. There’s also:

Schools and districts and everyone else is going to have to learn from all of this as the US prepares, probably this week, to mark its 5 millionth case of Covid and its 160,000th death.

I’ll borrow two things from Bromage to close out.

We should have done better: He writes: “In the months since the novel coronavirus pandemic began largely shutting down our communities, we have also squandered the opportunity to plan for how to safely resume some of the most critical aspects of society.

Since many schools closed in March, there has not been nearly enough discussion of how to reopen them in a safer fashion this fall. If we truly wanted schools to open, we would have collectively worked to lower community transmission and allocated the money and resources needed to reopen schools as safely as possible.”

We have to figure this out. He writes: “The infection rates we have seen among lower income essential workers and their families could now become the infection rates we see in children attending school. And those infected children will come home to their community and mix with each other in neighborhoods and sports. And they will spend many hours with their parents, siblings and extended family.

We now know that children can be infected. While the evidence is currently mixed on how easily they can be infected — ranging from half as likely to as likely as adults (especially for those children over 10 years old) — the data is robust that children can be infected.

However, we can take some comfort in the data showing that children are much less prone to severe outcomes from Covid-19. Lower severity of disease gives many people the justification they need to send their kids to school.”

What are we doing here?

We’re trying to connect the dots at a time of political, cultural and economic upheaval.



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