Recently Dr. Scanlon gave a presentation along with the recommendation to start the school year with children being at home with full remote learning.
First, let me start off by saying that the last thing I want to do is make this a personal attack on Dr. Scanlon or the Task Force. I know it’s easy to sit back after the fact and criticize decisions after they are made, but my concern isn’t the decision that was made as much as HOW it was made.
What was the ultimate driving force in going 100% remote? There are reasons listed in the online PowerPoint presentation – Safety of the Students and Staff being the top priority, which I agree with 100%. My question is, what is the threat to students and staff?
Yes, I know the easy answer is COVID-19. But WHAT is the threat? Is it contracting the virus? Is it dying from it? Something else? The threat wasn’t laid out in the presentation. To come up with a solution, shouldn’t a clear threat be determined first?
This ultimately led to me looking into the threat, myself. As many of you know, the CDC has statistics that are updated regularly. As of writing this, there have been 244 COVID-19 related deaths in the US for those who are 24 and under between February and July of this year. 19 of them were 5-14 years old. So I will ask again, what is the threat?
For context, in 2018 (the latest year available) there were 1,090 drownings in the US for ages 24 and under. The first 8 months (April to November of 2009) of the H1N1 flu also led to 1,090 deaths, but in the 17 and under age range.
The results show that there is little to no threat from COVID-19 directly for school-aged children, but what about teachers? The National Center for Education Statistics says that the average age of teachers in the US is 42 years old. 85% of teachers in PA are 54 or under.
For the same six month period as previously cited, 10,717 deaths related to COVID-19 were 54 and under. Yes, that is a more significant number than school age kids, but let’s add some context. In all of 2018 there were 24,583 deaths from car accidents in US for the 54 and under age group. The “regular” flu has been floated around as a comparison to COVID-19.
The statistics, however, are not as clear from the CDC. Due to multiple factors, the CDC lists between 6,059 and 24,558 deaths from the flu in the 2017/18 flu season.
I don’t mean to sound heartless here. Any death is sad. But leadership and emotion do not go hand in hand. Compassion is essential to being a leader, but emotion can negatively effect a leader’s ability to make decisions.
An important part of leadership is risk assessment. As parents, we do this every day. My wife and I are lucky to have a pool at our house. The 1,090 drownings are a constant concern for us, but it’s not enough for us to choose to not use it.
We have weighed the benefits vs the risk and have chosen to let our kids use our pool as many other parents do as well every year. The same thing is true for the teachers here in PA who choose to complete errands and trips with the use of a vehicle.
You do so knowing about the 24,583 deaths that occurred in 2018. None of us lock ourselves in our houses when flu season comes around and fixate on the “possible 24,558” deaths. It’s a risk assessment.
So what are we assessing here? Is the threat still COVID-19? At what point does the threat become something else?
Robert Redfield, the CDC Director, when asked about the financial impact on schools opening during the pandemic, said on July 14th “But there has been another cost that we’ve seen, particularly in high schools. We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID.”
According to the CDC, in 2018 there were 8,020 suicides committed by 15-24-year-olds. At this point, he is saying we should expect that to go up this year.
The point I am trying to make here is that, after reading the presentation provided by the West Chester Area School District, I don’t feel that there is a clear indication of the threat. Is it strictly limiting the amount of positive cases of COVID-19? Is this even the responsibility of the school district?
According to the presentation, 80.5% of 8,022 parents surveyed said they preferred some sort of “Brick and Mortar” option. When 700 staff members were asked how concerned they were with having adequate training to provide remote learning, more than half – 55% said they had at least some kind of concern.
Why go with the full remote with those results? Better yet, why even survey the parents and staff in the first place? The presentation even notes that “This option presents significant educational challenges as well as challenges for parents” when referring to the full remote model.
Keeping the schools closed will prevent COVID-19 from spreading in the schools, yes. Just as staying home prevents the virus from spreading in general. But this virus isn’t going anywhere for quite a while.
Dr. Scanlon recommended reevaluating in November, but what do we expect to change by November? Realistically there won’t be a vaccine available until mid-2021. A full lockdown has been disastrous for our economy, and the virus was there waiting for us as soon as we reopened. What has worked? Common sense. We need to look at what has taken place over the last six months and apply that.
Did you know that, during the lockdowns, the YMCA has cared for up to 40,000 children of front line workers between the ages of 1 and 14 at 1,100 separate sites? The state of Pennsylvania, according to the presentation, has said “…this must be a local decision” and that schools “must be the ones to make these choices and accept responsibility for the plan” which I applaud.
This is the very definition of subsidiarity. We have the ability to look at our own community and decide what works best for us.
So what works best? Allowing our children to return to schools, in person. Use risk assessment and common sense together and acknowledge the numbers. Who is at highest risk? Who is at lowest risk? Do we decide to let our kids swim in the pool? Do teachers risk driving their cars? How many of us have gone to the supermarket? How about going to restaurants?
We are living our lives. We aren’t being reckless. Nobody WANTS to develop this virus but all of us have accepted that it is here and we cannot hide from it. We are assessing the risks. Allow our kids to go back to school, or if not – give us a better explanation as to why they aren’t aside from “increasing pressure from many audiences”.
People are emotional, they are afraid, but again – leadership isn’t about emotion. Have compassion, but lead by making logical, informed decisions. A full Cyber program was already going to be an option for this upcoming school year, so let the parents decide between sending the kids back or keeping them at home.
Let families decide on how best to protect the most at risk. 108,214 out of the 135,579 deaths that have occurred from COVID-19 at the time of writing this were over the age of 65. That’s 80%. That is who we should be focused on protecting.
A community is made up of individual components. All are equally important. All are equally ESSENTIAL. Grocery stores are essential. Banks are essential. Salons and barber shops are essential. Restaurants are essential. Churches are essential. Schools are essential. Without all of these, we are not a community.
It’s time to show our children that they are essential, too.
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