What irony! The very day (Thursday) that many Pullman residents, including parents and educators, implored the school board to reopen K-5 classes, the Whitman County Public Health Department reported the county in high risk for Covid-19 infections.
This coincides with the national picture in which new cases of COVID-19 are at their highest level since the pandemic began.
Forecasts warn of yet higher numbers and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is asking citizens to forego even family gatherings for Thanksgiving.
Some localities are having to shut down once again, and that’s a worst case scenario.
We Americans aren’t known for our patience, the lack of which too often bites us in the butt.
My opinions on the subject at hand are informed. I raised six children and saw to their education. I looked through a grandfather’s window on the education of 20 grandchildren, all but four of which are now adults. I covered K-12 education for 11 years as a journalist. I’ve followed education in the popular press for nearly six decades. I’ve read a great number of articles, both popular and academic, on the internet. I’ve listened to video of most of the citizen testimony in the Nov. 12 Pullman School Board meeting.
This makes me an expert neither on education nor pandemics; but hopefully readers will find the breadth of my exposure to the relevant subjects worth considering.
I’m loath to disagree with Dr. Stephanie Fosback, my wife’s primary physician, who has my full respect and admiration. But her analogy of the safety of staff and patients in her office — zero infections — isn’t convincing in light of the differences between a doctor’s office and rooms and hallways full of students.
Dr. Deborah Collins’ assertion that re-opening schools for in-class learning now is consistent with federal, state and federal guidelines. She and others who testified for reopening now, cited Whitman County Health Department approval.
Please wonder with me how that can be when the Department says Whitman County is in the red zone; i.e. highest risk category?
Many citizens who testified at the school board meeting urged board members to follow the data.
But which data, from whom? And from what date? The claims some are making in support of reopening are out of date.
That’s the devil in statistics.
As I write, the latest word on the Washington State Coronavirus Response (COVID-19) web report expressed concern for hospital capacity to treat COVID-19 patients, which is a local concern.
“I am extremely concerned about what seems to be an accelerating trend in the spread of COVID-19. Immediate action is needed from all of us to avoid new restrictions and prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed,” State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said. “This situation is extraordinarily urgent, and we’re running out of time to change direction. We need everyone in Washington state to take action now to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Doesn’t sound like this is a good time to re-open K-5 classes.
Of course teachers want to teach.
Of course parents want children back in school.
Of course most children want to go to school.
Of course having schools closed is stressful for all.
The best thing the school board can do is avail itself of the best, most current data and to be patient.
Reopening too soon will have consequences, including increased stress on children.
The best thing parents can do to reduce COVID-19 their children’s stress would be to protect them from their own stress.
Don’t fulminate in front of youngsters about school closures. Reassure them that this too shall pass, and “cool.”
I don’t envy school board members and their challenges during this terrible pandemic. We all need to remember President Abraham Lincoln’s advice: “ ... You can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
Terence L. Day is a retired Washington State faculty member and a Pullman resident since 1972. He encourages email — pro and con — to firstname.lastname@example.org.