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Here’s Why Our Kids Need to Get Back to Class

It’s now July and one-half of the year is behind us.  That half was filled with Australian wildfires, presidential impeachments and subsequent acquittals, the deaths of Kobe & Gigi Bryant , Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped down from Royal duties, the UK withdrew from the European Union, the Iowa caucus results were delayed due to “quality control,” Weinstein was found guilty and locked up, the government admitted to UFOs, the stock market collapsed due to government imposed shut downs, the summer Olympics were postponed to 2021, racial tensions flared from coast to coast, and a global “pandemic” created, and continues to wreak, havoc and chaos affecting everyone in our nation.  Whew, glad to have that behind us.

Now, it’s time to figure out where we go with the second half of this calendar year and the first half of the school year.  While many states, districts, schools, and principals are creating plan A, plan B, and plans C-Z, a few states have lifted the curtain a little to provide a glimpse of what is to come.

We, as a general populace, are looking at the wrong indicators for opening up the school in the fall.  Instead of surging COVID positive counts (with falling fatality percentages) can we start asking ourselves, “What will happen to our students if we don’t serve them appropriately?”  

Let’s start talking specifics:

  1. What are the long term mental and psychological outcomes of placing plastic dividers between students? What will happen if we continue to isolate students and teach them that every other human being in life is a health risk? What kind of damage are we doing to their psyches?  Unfortunately, “solutions” like this usually mean we lose the arts, music, shared learning experiences, and hands on learning. Ultimately, if in-person district schools lose the socialization factor, they’re going to lose a ton of kids to the virtual schools as that is the biggest reason for withdrawal from virtual programs.

  2. What are the equity barriers that we’re building by requiring students and/or teachers to wear masks? First and foremost, anyone who even dares say, “Wearing a mask does more harm than good in some instances” is labeled a conspiracy theorist and wacko, but let’s take a good long hard look at this from a perspective other than physical health. One of our family friends (and school mate to our oldest child) recently had to pull their students out of the school we all love due to the likely, but yet still unknown, mandate that students and teachers will be wearing masks. “What a bunch on ninnies” some may think, but what they don’t know is that this kiddo has cochlear implants and relies heavily on being able to read lips to effectively communicate. I can’t imagine how lonely this school would be for her if even half of the requirements come to fruition this fall.

    The local school was offering digital education, but it required  students to be sitting behind a computer from 8 AM until 3 PM.  There are a whole host of health reasons to pick from that shows this is a terrible plan for young children.  Too much sitting and not enough time exploring the world through movement.  What did they end up doing?  Homeschooling.  This family is not alone, what about all of the folks who are hard of hearing and their NEED to see the speaker’s mouth to communicate? 

    Additionally, 93% of communication is not in what words are said, but in how it is communicated through facial expression and body language. Students are at risk of losing a key component of this skill while they and/or their teachers are wearing masks. And before we say, “it’s only a handful of people that are affected,” please know that 15% of adults have some trouble hearing with issues NOT related to wearing a mask. If even 5-10% of all students have similar concerns we, as educators, are doing these amazing children a major disservice.

  3. When does reducing classmate interactions/play in young students fail to provide enough COVID risk reduction to justify the potential harms as it related to social distancing? The feeling of isolation being felt by millions of Americans during this time is undoubtedly having severe impacts on America’s students. While it’s still too early to find specific data pointing to measure student impacts, this virus has seen a huge influx of calls to the Disaster Distress Helpline. From February 2020 to March 2020 they saw a whopping 338 percent increase in phone traffic. 

    We, as educators and parents, need to determine how much risk we’re willing to take from a mostly survivable virus (especially for children) compared to the mental health risks which are many. Several researchers published a piece titled, “Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019—a Perfect Storm?” where they express using common sense physical approaches to stay the virus without losing the humanity that we were designed to carry throughout our lives.

    Add to social distancing the fact that many schools have stated they will not have hands on manipulatives, books, or other shareable learning modalities in any form next year.

At the end of the day, we have to ensure students are learning again. What we experienced in the Spring of 2020 was not digital learning.  It was emergency distance learning which is completely different.  We can’t do “that” to our kids again.  We have to continue pushing new materials, assessing those skills, and providing the completely missing academic feedback on assignments and assessments.  Let’s get together and make the hard, albeit, not popular decision to support students based on the current data we have and plan to readjust should new data become available.  It is time to serve students in buildings again.  It’s time to get students learning again.  

What Do You Think?
Chase Eskelsen
Chase Eskelsen is the Chief of Staff at the education non-profit, Verano Learning Partners. The Verano team has been tasked by their board to launch new and innovative school models and they are currently opening new schools worldwide.  Mr. Eskelsen has his Master’s in School Administration and wrote his thesis around the topic of Education Policy for Virtual School Programs.

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