On Monday, June 22, 2020, the Wisconsin DPI released their Guidelines for school reopening in an 87 page document titled “Education Forward.” It included “guidance” for schools to open in the fall, including masks for staff and students, Plexiglas dividers, social distancing, as well as a long list of hybrid virtual/in-person scheduling options such as 4 day weeks, 2 day rotations, and A/B weeks.
It is important to note that children have an extremely low-risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19. According to the CDC, individuals between the ages of 0-49 have a case fatality ratio of 0.0005 which represent all students and a significant portion of staff. The case fatality ratio increases to only 0.002 for ages 50-65.
Masks and shields can be a source of distraction, lower oxygen levels, impede normal social interaction, create a barrier between student and teacher, increase anxiety and depression, and frighten children. Furthermore, seasoned teachers will attest to the fact that mask wearing will be nearly impossible to enforce.
The term “social distancing” is an oxymoron with zero science to support it and plenty of evidence of harm. Distancing is harmful on a physical, psychological, emotional, and instructional level, particularly for children.
Hybrid or virtual school models contribute to overall community poverty levels because parents can’t work, they deprive children of critical social interaction through forced isolation, and can have the rare but devastating consequence of increased child abuse. Such convoluted schemes will be confusing and economically harmful for families and a logistical nightmare for staff.
The solution is to simply open school normally including extracurricular activities, special classes, lunches, recess, field trips, guest speakers, and other activities that make school a magical and memorable place for children. Opening normally means no masks, dividers, temperature checks, or distancing measures. Opening normally means a 5 day a week, in-person learning model with optional distance learning for staff and students who prefer it.
Making this work would require a firm but supportive sick policy so ill staff and students can stay home without repercussions, healthy practices such as hand-washing and cough/sneeze etiquette, and symptom awareness, educating, and monitoring at both school and home.
The Board of Education can decide to open normally. The DPI offers guidance only. These are not laws, nor are they enforceable by law. Individual school boards have all the power to make the best decisions for their community. So yes, schools can open normally. The question is, will they use the crisis as a way to usher in draconian policies or will they choose to do what is clearly in the best interest of the students?
If you want your voice heard on this topic, it is absolutely critical to answer the survey sent to all Rock County parents and also to email your school board. If all else fails, we still have other legitimate options. We are extremely fortunate to live in Wisconsin, which has some of the best homeschooling laws in the country, and they may leave us no other choice.