President Trump and the Education Dilemma

Storm Paglia

Right now, Republicans across the country are taking a firm stand on the idea that schools have to re-open in the fall. And, yes, there are good reasons why they should.

However, there are as many worrisome reasons as to why they shouldn’t, and outright dismissing those reasons does little more than spit in the face of the people who will be dealing with that much human contact in the midst of a global pandemic: teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, administrators, and the students themselves.

So I’m more than a little bit pissed off when people like Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana tells people to “kiss my ass” if they oppose reopening schools “for political reasons” — the definition of which, I am sure, is anything that he disagrees with, because he is one of the most partisan Foghorn Leghorn impersonators America has ever seen.

Kennedy is not wrong in suggesting schools staying closed would be bad for kids, he is just the second-worst messenger on the subject. The first would be President Donald Trump.

It is not that difficult to intelligently articulate a case for re-opening the schools. National Review’s Morning Jolt did so on Monday.

Unless you’re old enough to have survived the 1918 pandemic, our kids are going through something completely different from anything we ever experienced. Everyone who studies mental health in children is sounding the alarm; it’s not just the fear, stress, and anxiety, it’s the isolation. To the extent we can get kids safely interacting with each other again — making each other laugh again — we need to do that. We cannot allow our kids to pay the price for grownups’ ideological differences or fears of lawsuits. Yes, any reopening of schools will involve some element of risk. Our job as responsible grownups is to figure out how to mitigate those risks, not to throw up our hands and tell kids to turn into hikikomori shut-ins until there’s a vaccine.

My reader who is the head of research for a top-ten hospital in this country weighed in, noting that he’s “seeing way too much overreaction and panic about the fast-approaching school year.”

This researcher found more “best practices” after reviewing examples from other countries:

  • “Open the school year in phases. If your school is Kindergarten through fifth grade, start with just first and fifth grades the first week, add in second and third grades the second week, and then all grades attend school after that.”
  • “Stagger drop-off and pick-up times, maybe five or ten minutes apart, per grade. This will mean some inconvenience for parents and siblings, but it will reduce mixing of children by a lot.”
  • “Keep corridors in junior high and high schools one-way: That also greatly reduces the number of students coming into contact with each other. Passing times might also be staggered by grade to reduce the number in the halls at any one time.” I know many schools are trying to minimize the number of times middle and high schoolers change classes and are contemplating having the teachers move from classroom to classroom. Clearly, this won’t work in every situation; some classrooms might have particular equipment needed for instruction: science lab, shop class, home economics, gym, art, library, music, etc. If high schools do go with the one-way hallway options, this means teens will need more time between classes.
  • “Few countries are forcing elementary-age children to be masked: more are asking secondary school children to do so. Much as we’d like to be able to say otherwise, masks make only a small difference, but they do make a difference, mainly by reducing the potential for an asymptomatic person to spread an infection.”

I like all this, but it requires us to do something we haven’t done since all this started: Be responsible adults.

We have made our responses to the virus — economic shutdowns, state closures, wearing masks — political instead of practical and reasonable. There was a reason for these policies to come up. Other countries, ones that were successful in combatting the virus in the first place, were able to implement these strategies without issue and are now back to roughly 90 percent normal life with little liberty sacrificed permanently.

Yet, we have become so divided in our partisan tribes that one side suggesting something automatically makes it bad to the other side.

If Trump were to come out and mandate that every American wear a mask, his supporters would be all over the mandate and his opponents would declare that he doesn’t have the authority to do that and clearly he is a tyrant ready to cancel the 2020 election. Hell, he already wore a mask and he was trashed in the media for it.

It’s impossible for him to win, but it’s just as impossible for people who question the wisdom of declaring in-person school an absolute must to be treated with anything but contempt by the likes of Senator Kennedy and legions of Trump supporters. There is wisdom in waiting and making determinations at a later date, just as there is wisdom in having contingency plans ready to go. Like so many things, there is thoughtfulness and nuance that has to go into these discussions but because of the hyper-partisan nature of our society today you aren’t allowed to consider the nuances. You have to decide now and God help you if you choose wrong.

That is simply not healthy. Information about COVID-19 has been coming in and changing so often that we can’t possibly make a concrete decision now when information even a week old can be directly contradicted by the latest data points. Pre-conceived notions from March and April are no longer valid because the data is a completely different beast now.