In the last few days, the number of coronavirus cases has skyrocketed in the South and the West, mostly due to young people driving up the rates of spread. Now, as the 2020-2021 school year approaches, questions emerge on how to safely reopen schools without worsening the transmission rates and possibly spreading it to an older and more vulnerable population - teachers, faculty and administrative staff.
Many schools have pledged to reopen and allow students to resume in-person learning while having access to facilities and other equipment, but many of them made this declaration before cases started surging again. Now, there is a scramble to fortify schools against the 'invisible enemy' and little to no consensus on how to safely proceed and avoid mass outbreaks that affect not only at-risk students but older and more immunocompromised adults that work there.
College administrators are convening on how to restructure classes to reduce the number of people in a room. Some have suggested holding classes outside. Others have released statements that say they will move students into auditoriums and seat students at least six feet apart while limiting attendance to 50 students in compliance with CDC recommendations on large gatherings. Of course, students will also be required to wear a face mask.
My concern is less what happens during school hours and inside school buildings but what happens when students are released and left to their own devices. Students are notorious for being wayward and will likely grow weary of regulation and people bossing them about. It is probable that students will continue to hold parties and social events in which the virus festers, and as soon as they return to hour-long classes and come into contact with higher risk groups, it will spread tenfold.
Colleges have an advantage over grade schools, because many of the students stay on campus or away from parents, so there is less chance of asymptomatic students carrying the virus home to their moms or dads. But students at primary or secondary schools are not afforded the privilege of staying distanced from more immunosuppressed people like their parents. Nor do these schools typically have assembly rooms large enough for students to sit six feet apart from their peers.
Opening primary schools is necessary for parents with nine-to-five jobs who have nowhere to send their children during the day. Setting a child back a year in a formative period can also handicap development and stunt intellectual growth. Even if teachers could adapt curriculums to an online format in a matter of a couple months, providing every child with the resources to excel academically from within their own homes is a tall order.
I am not here to be a prophet of gloom and doom, but I see two outcomes to come from this: either schools reopen, and there is immense variation in the amount of consequence a school bears - apocalyptic disaster in one and mild shake-up at another, or schools do not reopen, causing parents to quit their jobs to supervise their children and/or a developmental delay in children forced to learn from home.