As the school year winds to a close, I still wince every time I drive by Franklin Elementary. Hordes of youngsters, lined up outside for any of a number of reasons, all wearing masks. This in spite of now overwhelming evidence that schools and kids are not affected by COVID-19, nor are they vectors for spread. Here’s the physical insight into all of this — for this particular coronavirus, children’s robust immune systems really crunch their viral load. And heavy viral load is what you need to give the disease to others.
This reality is not going to make the cowardly old men stop attacking me on these pages. Whatever. I’ve never been one to live in or with fear well. I wish them well as they move onto the inevitability we all face as humans. Enshrining cowardice as a virtue has been one of the most dysfunctional aspects of this pandemic. I can tell you that it is no value that any persistent civilization wants to glorify.
But for the rest of us — especially those of us living in Washington State — I’d encourage you to get very loud and vocal for your kids. Because there are long-term issues at stake. And they may not be exactly what you might think.
There are a couple of byproducts of the pandemic that receive little mention in the press. The first is that red states, largely through coincidence and serendipity, took off their non-pharmaceutical interventions and saw they did basically nothing. The second viral wave had passed. But by opening up, they turned into in-migration targets for lots of folks concerned about their kids. It will be interesting to watch to see what the final statistics are, but there’s no question that escape from dysfunctional COVID-19 restrictions has driven migration patterns across our country. And people did it for their kids.
Mirroring the national trend, more people than ever are actively putting their students in private schools, or even locally, moving their kids to less restrictive public schools. That means nothing good for the long-term health of any school district. Pullman and their school board seem to operate in the world of “we’ll do whatever we want” — which, of course, they can. But even if those parents who moved their kids out of Pullman return, they will return with a grudge. The vocalization of the bully left on the issue may keep most folks quiet. But revenge from the ballot box will return. And I know far too many people far more angry about this unnecessary life disruption than is recognized by the media.
The consequences of more kids in private schools are not at all good for the nation as a whole. Some level of even educational playing field is necessary, especially in this age of internet bias, for our future adults to relate to one another. Both the right and the left share blame for turning our schools into cultural battlegrounds, be it teaching about race or wearing a mask. The long-term consequences will be a magnified inability of people to relate to each other. Cultural cohesion is what makes a great nation.
And two educational tracks — one for the haves, and the leftovers for the have-nots —will not bode well. Parents willing to make the necessary sacrifice to yank their kids out of school over COVID-19 are the activist parents. And school districts need these movers and shakers. They’re the ones that drive change — ones sorely needed. You don’t just shift the distribution when you eliminate these people. You chop off the thinking population from interaction.
For those in all public administration going along to get along, maybe it’s time to start speaking up the chain of command. It’s still not too late to declare next school year a normal one for the kids. And there’s no need for a youth vaccine — it’s the last thing we need for our young people. Let’s get back to normal. With surplus adult vaccines, there is no reason not to.
Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical and materials engineering at Washington State University.