Perhaps the most nettlesome question posed by the coronavirus pandemic is what to do about the schools.
In-person education pretty much shut down across the country in March, and it is no criticism of our educators to say that the bulk of parents and students were not satisfied with remote, on-line instruction. Distance learning is not a full substitute for in-person classes.
Our schools are expected not only to serve academic needs, but nutritional and social needs as well. In addition, parents rely on schools to handle child care while they are at work.
It is no wonder that an informal survey by the state education department, released last week, found that a majority of parents want the schools to reopen this fall.
And yet, we look around the country and we see no end to the pandemic. The situation is growing increasingly dire in such hot-weather (air-conditioning) states as Arizona, Texas and Florida — which suggests that the virus spreads most readily when people are congregated inside.
And children and teachers congregating inside is pretty much a definition of schools.
Minnesota school districts have been told to prepare for three scenarios for the coming school year: full-time in-person learning, full-time distance learning and a hybrid. A decision is due by the end of the month, but Gov. Tim Walz has indicated that he is increasingly wary of going all-in on reopening public schools.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, is operating in its typical blunderbuss fashion. The president and education secretary Betsy DeVos last week insisted that schools reopen fully.
President Donald Trump held a public event on the topic in which he pointedly relegated officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the sidelines. Later in the week Trump ordered the CDC to soften its guidelines for schools (director Robert Redfield said the guidelines won’t change) and threatened to withhold funding from states and schools that don’t follow Trump’s demand.
It would be difficult, in reviewing the course of this crisis, to find an example in which the president acted in the primary interest of public health. His all-in stance on reopening schools is yet another example of his apparent belief that if we ignore the virus it will go away. We expect, and hope, that the governor will have a more realistic approach. Reopening schools has value. So does protecting our students.