Editorial: Reopening N.C. schools focus must be on next generation, not next election

Tuesday, July 14, 2020 -- Simply sending kids back to school on Aug. 17, waiting to see what happens and then reacting in panic, is a prescription for confusion and disaster. Stop worrying about the next election. Do what's best for the next generation.

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DRAUGHON DRAWS: The little coronavirus polisher
CBC Editorial: Tuesday 14, 2020; Editorial #8562
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

When and how to re-open North Carolina’s schools is not easy. The factors, amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, are tremendous. Consider there are more than:

  • 1.6 million students in K-12 classes.
  • Double that for parents, guardians and other caregivers.
  • Add another 174,000 classroom teachers, school administrators, counselors, health staff, food workers, bus drivers, custodial and clerical staff.

These factors – about 5 million for starters – do not lend themselves to the kinds of election-year sloganeering solutions emerging from the likes of state Senate leader Phil Berger.

It is simplistic, incomplete and even dangerous to declare: “Kids ought to be going back to school, regular schedule.” Berger, who is a lawyer, not a doctor or public health expert, said: "There's no question that children are going to catch the virus. The question is whether it's going to be something that's going to tax our health resources, or it's going to be something that's going to cause someone else to get sick. And I think that we can control for both of those things without requiring every child in the state of North Carolina to either distance learn or show up every third day."

How does he know? Even if he is 100 percent right that school kids who have the virus won’t get sick, -- and he’s not – what about the 174,000 adults in the schools? What about the parents and other adults in the lives of the 1.6 million school kids?

There may be those who consider themselves immune. That is a dangerous and selfish bet when it is the health, safety and lives of others that are at stake. It is not an idle threat that hundreds – perhaps thousands – of teachers will opt to stay away from their classrooms. Not out of any lack of love for their students – but worry about the health and safety of their colleagues and loved-ones at home.

We don’t disagree with the consensus that “children learn best when physically present in a classroom.” But during more than 12 years of basic education, a few months away from a classroom can be made up with proper planning, focus and effort. The worst ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic can never be fixed and for some impossible to heal.

This is not easy. There are many considerations. They have required – and will continue to require -- parents and caregivers, employers, service providers as well as school and government officials, to agonize and make difficult choices. Businesses want employees back on the job, parents need to work. Decisions on how classroom learning will return are critical to those matters.

This is an executive decision. Gov. Roy Cooper has been deliberative. Rather than relying upon fads, hunches, hopes and tweets, he’s drawn upon experts in medicine, public health and education to guide the decision he’s expected to announce today.  North Carolina is blessed with the best.  He’s not relying upon the latest hot tweet or pseudo-scientific window dressing that flashes across social media.

Simply sending kids back to school on Aug. 17, waiting to see what happens and then reacting in panic, is a prescription for confusion and disaster.

What public officials need to start doing is addressing the inequities in our education system that the pandemic has exposed. Many of those have plagued North Carolina public education for decades. The Leandro lawsuit – and the action plan that has been proposed will be a start. Addressing the digital divide – so broadband is available and affordable everywhere in the state – is another long-festering problem that can no longer be ignored.

Ease the way back to the classroom; phase-in students’ time in class and spread out attendance. That will help to impose social distancing and possibly make schools safer places.

Last week, the nation’s pediatricians, teachers and school administrators came together and said it best:

“Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”

Stop worrying about the next election. Do what’s best for the next generation.

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