We’re not quite sure what to make of the reluctance of the ABSS school officials and school board members to reopen the county’s schools and get teachers, and students, back to work with in-class instruction.
More than three-quarters of the state’s school systems have now returned to mostly in-person instruction. Locally, nearby school systems in Chatham, Randolph, and Rockingham counties have returned to in-person school attendance for students at all levels (elementary, middle, and high school) – and thus all teachers. In next-door Guilford, schools are reopened for elementary students, with only middle and high school students being taught remotely.
For ABSS, the urgency for a return to in-person, in-classroom instruction should be evident to anyone listening to the statistics reported by the school system itself. Approximately 56 percent of middle school and 34 percent of high school students failed at least one course during the first nine-week grading period last fall. That’s abominable.
That, alone, should be an alarming wake-up call that students need to be back in the classroom as soon as possible.
This week, even two high school students gave public comments at the school board meeting, via e-mail, begging for schools to reopen.
Frankly, much of the teacher reluctance appears to be along the lines of simply wanting to get out of work. The fact that actual teacher unions, like one in Chicago, has expressly voted to resist reopening and returning to their jobs underscores that suspicion.
But across the country, and in Alamance County, it seems teachers are effectively advocating that they have the right to determine when schools should reopen – not school boards, parents, or even school administrators.
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated, since last summer, that keeping schools closed poses a greater risk to children’s health than reopening them, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robert Redfield, CDC director, said, even as long ago as July, “I cannot overstate how important I think it is now to get our schools in this nation reopened.” He added, “The reason I push it is that I truly believe it’s for the public health benefit of these kids.”
For those who for almost a year have insisted that public policy needs to ‘follow the science,’ Redfield’s further explanation is that the coronavirus is “relatively benign” for young people.
“The truth is,” Redfield said at a press briefing more recently, in November, “one of the safest places they can be from our perspective is to remain in school.” He elaborated, “Today, there’s extensive data that we’ve gathered over the last two to three months to confirm that K-12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning and they can do it safely and they can do it responsibly.”
With the proper safety precautions that the CDC and other health professionals have repeatedly outlined over the past year – face masks, 6-foot social distancing, frequent hand-washing – we know of no scientific reason to keep schools, in Alamance County or elsewhere, closed.
And all of this guidance was before the availability of two potential vaccines. Yet access to a vaccine need not be a prerequisite for reopening, as some school officials now seem to have as their latest variation for an excuse to stay closed.
The latest breakdown from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services for the week of January 17 reveals that, out of 13,249 people in Alamance County who tested positive for COVID-19, just 43 cases were among school-age children, between ages 5 and 17. (The NCDHHS breakdown excludes data for 69 positive cases.)
And just by the way, Alamance County’s pandemic conditions do not seem to be preventing the county’s private schools from having reopened – back in August.
In the surrounding school districts that have reopened (listed earlier), there have been no reports of outbreaks at any of the public schools in those counties.
We’re especially puzzled by the reluctance of two school board members who strenuously advocated for reopening during their election campaigns just a few months ago. Now, they’ve apparently backpeddled, agreeing to retain remote-only instruction for another month – they voted to delay the planned February 1 reopening until March 1 for elementary students, March 8 for middle and high school.
Ryan Bowden, Sandy Ellington-Graves, and Donna Davis Westbrooks all promised voters that they would support a return to in-person classroom instruction, but, so far, only Bowden’s vote upholds that promise. Ellington-Graves and Westbrooks have since voted along with the rest of the majority to delay in-person classroom instruction until March.
But if ABSS is going to remain closed, school officials shouldn’t be surprised if taxpayers and county commissioners decide that future budget considerations need to reflect the lower costs they’re incurring – and scotch entirely the preposterous spending and teacher pay increases that have been floated.
Meanwhile, ABSS school officials – both elected and non-elected – would do well to ‘follow the science’ and start looking for ways to reopen schools instead of finding excuses to keep them closed.