The Best and Worst About Our Grandchildren Safely Going To School This Coming School Year While the Pandemic, COVID-19, Is Still Among Us

DaycareThis Grandma interviewed the three oldest grandchildren to preserve their memories about what life is like during the pandemic.  The questions included was the worst thing about their isolation during the lockdown due to the pandemic.  See post, “What Will Our Grandchildren Remember About Living Through The Coronavirus Pandemic COVID-19 and How To Memorialize their Memories With Them and For Them.”

Unfortunately for me, the top worst thing did not include not being able to see their grandparents (until I reminded them of that).  Each said the worst thing was not being able to see their friends. The videos have been saved by the oldest grandchild to be opened in ten years.  Hopefully, we will be around to see the videos with the grandchildren.  But, let’s leave this worst grandparent fear about our grandchildren going to school this coming school year while the pandemic, COVID-19, is still among us for the end.

First, the most promising news comes from the studies about the children of the first responders in daycare. See, What Parents Can Learn From Child Care Centers That Stayed Open During Lockdowns, by Anya Kamenetz, NPR News, June 24, 2020.

The author addresses the day care centers following the CDC guidelines and what happened.  Children were placed in “pods” of groups of nine children, but since the children included babies, masks were not strictly adhered to.  Small group size and separation between the “pods” was significant.  The adults wore masks, gloves and gowns, and anyone sick stayed home.  Temperature checks and symptom screenings on each child were done each day.

I love the game played with the young children to get them to properly wash their hands. “[a]t the beginning of each 30-minute activity, such as sports or craft time, children get a stamp or marker doodle on their hands, which they have to wash off before moving on to the next activity,” and this required them to scrub their hands hard.

Here is the best news:

“Throughout the pandemic, many child care centers have stayed open for the children of front-line workers — everyone from doctors to grocery store clerks. YMCA of the USA and New York City’s Department of Education have been caring for, collectively, tens of thousands of children since March, and both tell NPR they have no reports of coronavirus clusters or outbreaks. As school districts sweat over reopening plans, and with just over half of parents telling pollsters they’re comfortable with in-person school this fall, public health and policy experts say education leaders should be discussing and drawing on these real-world child care experiences.”

And there was another, but unscientific study that found that “among 916 centers serving more than 20,000 children, just over 1% of staff and 0.16% of children were confirmed infected with the coronavirus.”

But, the NPR article mentions what could be the worst news from a Johns Hopkins report wanting more study, “How vulnerable to severe illness are students who have underlying health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or severe obesity? How safe is it for adults who themselves have serious underlying health conditions? … How safe is it for teachers, administrators, and other school staff? … Are certain school communities at greater risk than others relative to exposure, and should each school community be evaluated independently to determine level of risk?”

Despite the above, “63% of families are uncomfortable sending their children back to day care—here’s how experts say you can prepare,” by Megan Leonhardt, June 24, 2020, CNBC.

The second most promising news comes from the American Pediatric Society.  See, “U.S. Pediatricians Call For In-Person School This Fall,” by Anya Kamenetz, NPR, June 29, 2020.

The author reports that The American Academy of Pediatrics “have come out with a strong statement in favor of bringing children back to the classroom this fall wherever and whenever they can do so safely.”  The key is SAFELY! It is important to ready the statement as published by the AAP, and to especially compare it to the school plan in your grandchildren’s school district, “COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry.”

So, both of the above are in favor of our grandchildren going back to school.  The issue of SAFETY is still an imperative concern.

My recent post on travel addressed the issue of risk assessment, and the school issue is no less an issue of risk assessment during the pandemic.  See post, “The Six Best Tips for Car Travel in the Time of Coronavirus, Covid-19,” The post includes how to do an individual risk assessment as well as experts giving the relative risk assessment of various activities of life.  Opening schools is a 7 out of 10, high risk, according to the experts.

However, even with opening schools as a 7 out of 10, high risk, the issue of risk assessment for school attendance is multi faceted and multi generational, and, in the end, is a personal one, requiring everyone to consider the risk to us all, not only to the individual. We high risk Florida grandparents are in trouble, even though our grandchildren do not live in Florida. Florida has ordered schools to reopen in the fall, even as virus cases go up and up in Florida.  See, “Florida orders schools to reopen in the fall, even as virus cases soar: The state’s education commissioner issued an executive order calling for in-person instruction,” by Moriah Balingit, Washington Post, July 6, 2020.  Despite local Florida school districts seeking flexibility, “[m]any districts, including the Miami-Dade school system, have proposed offering multiple options for schooling, including hybrid models that would incorporate online and in-person learning. The order requires schools to offer full-time instruction “at least” five days a week for families who desire it.”

The Washington Post Editorial Board wrote the following on July 5, 2020, which says it best, “Schools need to reopen. The question is how.”

The Board said, “[a] recent nationwide survey of school superintendents showed that 94 percent of them aren’t ready to announce when they’ll reopen classrooms for the 2020-2021 school year. . . . .When schools do reopen, virtually every aspect of schooling will be altered. There will be a mix of in-person and remote learning; stringent sanitation and protective measures; and an overhaul of schedules and routines to meet the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some districts are contemplating staggered days for students. Among the challenges: adapting facilities that in many cases are already overloaded; figuring out the logistics of busing to maintain social distancing; and accommodating teachers and other school personnel who have health reasons to fear returning to the classroom.”

For our grandchildren going to college, the risk assessment is not only for the students but for the faculty and staff.  Realistically, college aged grandchildren feel they are invincible.  Part of the risk assessment for college aged grandchildren is whether they are capable of social distancing, wearing masks, and maintaining hygiene necessary to reduce the risk of the spread of the coronavirus.  Yes, I can still remember my own college days, even if I am loathe to admit they were in the 1960’s.  I do think I would have adhered to the strict requirements (as I do now), but it is in my nature as a goody-goody and most of all, because of being a child of Holocaust survivors.  PopPop and I have self isolated since March 1 after all and continue to do so.  Would it have been easy to do so in college with my friends?  I think not.  I think it would have been near impossible. That is why college professors are rebelling against colleges opening. That is why even Harvard is doing remote learning next year.  See, “Colleges Face Rising Revolt by Professors: Most universities plan to bring students back to campus. But many of their teachers are concerned about joining them,” by Anemona Hartocollis, July 3, 2020, New York Times.

 

Parents are joining the professionals and us grandparents expressing their valid concerns.  See, “Parents Share Their Biggest Back-To-School Concerns for Fall 2020,” by Melissa Mills, Parents Magazine, July 02, 2020.

For our grandchildren in high school and middle school, this Grandma feels the same as the professionals and the parents.  I taught in middle school so I have personal experience, other than presently being a grandmother of a high schooler and two middle schoolers.  Peer pressure is great and parents are secondary to peer pressure.  High school and middle school opening is a great risk too.

As we go younger and younger, the risk seems to get lower and lower.  Younger children can be made to seem like this is an adventure and may willingly participate in social distancing and wearing great looking masks.  Games can be played with washing hands and hygiene.  We have a shot with the younger grandchildren adhering to what might be necessary to safely open elementary school, preschool, and daycare, as shown in the studies above.  See, a Science Daily reported study that “[m]ost children with COVID-19 fared better than adults during the first four months of the pandemic, according to a systematic review of 131 studies worldwide,” University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, June 26, 2020.

However, the worst or bad news is a longer list than the best news.  Going from general to personal, the most important issue is funding.  Schools are traditionally underfunded at best.  Take that from this Grandma who taught elementary school and middle school for seven years.  I have taught classes of twenty children in affluent school districts and classes of forty nine in impoverished school districts.  The pandemic requires small classes in “pods” to keep socially distanced.  That costs money.  The pandemic requires school buses not to run full.  That costs money.  And, the pandemic has financially strapped communities and parents.  While the schools were closed in the spring, many children lost so much academically because of insufficient tools for learning at home and from the schools.  We are looking at local communities large and small and parents in financial trauma.  This does not bode well for the schools to open safely.

The Washington Post editorial above concludes:

“The Cares Act passed by Congress in March included about $13 billion for K-12 schools, but schools need more. The House included an additional $58 billion in a recovery bill it passed last month, but the Senate has yet to take up the legislation. If state and federal officials are serious about putting children back in classrooms this year, time is running short to provide the needed resources.”

Financing in the form of federal aid is being held up in the U.S. Senate.  We grandparents should contact our Senators!  Here is the link that tells how to do so.

If the schools cannot open safely, then our grandchildren are at risk.  We have seen few children die from the coronavirus, but we do not know enough about the long-term consequences, such as lung or heart damage, that may affect our grandchildren.  We do not know enough about the mysterious disease affecting children as a result of COVID-19.  See this Science Daily review of a study that “a multisystem hyperinflammatory condition has emerged in children in association with prior exposure or infection to SARS-CoV-2. A new case series examines the spectrum of imaging findings in children with the post-COVID-19 inflammatory condition known in the US as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children”  Radiological Society of North America, June 25, 2020.

Schools do not open only with children.  There are teachers, administrators, bus drivers, aids, cafeteria workers, maintenance staff, and more.  These are adults, many of whom are high risk due to health conditions, obesity, or (must I say it) AGE. The teachers’ unions have spoken and they are concerned about the short and long term consequences of opening schools during a pandemic.

Now, I must get to us grandparents, the high risk population.  It has been too long since I have hugged my grandchildren, and even if we are able to visit, we cannot hug them unless all of us quarantine for fourteen days.  What is the likelihood of that happening?  Once school starts, we have to disappear from our grandchildren’s lives, as the risk multiplies by every child they come into contact with, and there will be dozens and dozens, no matter how careful the schools are.

The best and worst seem to collide here.  And no matter how much we aim for the best, unless we Americans face the reality of millions ill and hundreds of thousands dying from COVI-19, and give up some individual liberty for the common good, the worst is what we will have whether our grandchildren attend school this year or not.  We will only make it more dangerous for our grandchildren to go to school, and we all want them to go to school, if all Americans do not band together for our American children and contain COVID-19 by doing what we need to do.

What is the best about Americans being independent and guarding individual liberty is the worst during a pandemic.  In other countries, there is compliance willingly or enforced.  Having been a judge for twenty years, I learned that many refused to obey any court order, even when threatened with jail, or taken to jail.  America is an amazing country, but we are killing ourselves by refusing to adhere to wearing of masks and social distancing, and we may end up killing our children or their chance at good education.  I have been looking at the photographs taken during the 1918 flu epidemic and seeing seas of masked people in stadiums or in the streets and wish this could also be now. But wishing will not make it happen, and I am concerned that nothing will make it happen, even if hundreds of thousands of coffins are lined up in the street.  If we don’t begin to believe the scientists, I am worried that I will be among those Boomers who will not be alive in a few years, much less in ten years to watch the pandemic videos we created with our grandchildren.

 

With little joy,

 

Mema

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