If we as parents didn’t know what social-emotional learning was before the pandemic, we do now. It’s become fairly evident just how much our kids need to be together for learning and for success in school, from little ones to high schoolers.
Oak Harbor Public Schools announced its plan to return to in-person learning for grades 7-12 starting Feb. 8. However, sending kids back to school at this point in time threatens to make COVID-19 worse for our our community. Consider the following:
• None of the teachers will have had a chance to be fully vaccinated prior to the return to campus. Per guidance released on Jan. 18, teachers are Phase 1B Tier 2, not slated to begin until spring. Teachers wouldn’t be fully vaccinated until they receive two doses, the second dose 21 days from the first. That will be at least one to two months after school starts back up, if not longer, as the national reserve of vaccine appears to not exist;
• Island County Public Health is unable to provide regular and reliable guidance due to Oak Harbor schools due to its COVID-19 staff being in disarray. Public Health currently has no permanent public health officer and has experienced an exodus of nurses. Washington state is providing emergency support. There is no permanent officer locally to advise, visit or check on the school’s protocols;
• Oak Harbor schools has not provided evidence that their buildings or staff meet the guidelines for safe reopening. The district needs to show the community it has the up-to-date ventilation and air handling and sanitation to prevent aerosolizing COVID-19, including 100 percent mask wearing and monitored sanitation protocols, and;
• Reopening prior to wide-spread vaccination of the community endangers the health of family members. Students returning to school may easily pass the virus to family members at home, especially with the appearance of a new variant that is more transmissible. The research is showing that those who have had COVID-19 do not make long-lasting antibodies, suggesting that only a vaccine will provide herd immunity. Vaccines will not be available to most people until summer and fall, per the state’s most current phasing guideline.
Parents can choose to keep their children home from school. However, teachers and staff cannot make that choice. They must attend school or use their sick leave until it runs out, and they will not be able to file for unemployment. Those employees who are medically vulnerable will be able to file for unemployment. This is no way to take care of our educators.
It’s clear we must keep providing services to vulnerable students and help those seniors who need this last year of education to graduate. But for the rest, maybe just call it off like one long snow day? Find some creative solutions that are safe, such as classes outside in the summer? Instruction via television? Self-paced paper or online coursework with on-call tutoring?
This is a once-in-a-century pandemic and it’s happening to the whole world. Our kids won’t be any further behind that anyone else.
Let’s wait until we can do this with some confidence that going back to school is going to make things better for everyone, and not worse for our community as a whole.