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Op-Ed: Safety Should Drive Schools' Reopening Plan

 

The following op-ed is written by Nancy Bardgett, of Fort Thomas, a Democratic candidate for state representative in House District 68.

Governor Beshear’s recommendation that schools wait until September 28th to begin in-person instruction has garnered both indignation and applause. As a retired special education teacher who is still active in the field, I have seen reactions from parents and teachers that range from relief to frustration, and all of these responses are understandable. I am hoping, though, that we will all be able to look past both our “gut” reactions and our political filters in regards to this announcement, and instead focus on making it safer for our teachers and students to return to school at the end of the September. If we work together now by social distancing, masking, and handwashing, we can greatly increase the likelihood of a safe and lasting re-opening. 

Of course, we want our children to be back in school, and of course in-person instruction is preferable to virtual instruction. Few would argue that our children benefit greatly from being in school, or dispute the educational and emotional toll resulting from isolation. Certainly the negative impact of being unable to participate in in-person instruction is multiplied for those students who already struggle due to disability, educational need, or financial circumstances. We all recognize that keeping students at home has a major financial impact on our communities, as working families try to care for their children at the same time that they are trying to provide for them. 

All of these are very good reasons for wanting our children back in school, and especially for wanting our children back in school in a safe and consistent way. They are also excellent reasons why funding for public education should be a priority, whether or not we are in the midst of a pandemic.

But we are in the midst of a serious and deadly pandemic.

Much as we want to see in-person instruction resume as quickly as possible, what is really important is that in-person instruction resumes as safely and as permanently possible, and that requires a different strategy. While our COVID numbers continue to rise among adults and children, the likelihood of being able to safely maintain consistent in-person schooling for all students continues to decrease. 

Schools just across the river in southern Indiana who opened last week already have some students and teachers in quarantine, and will soon have to re-examine their re-opening model. Waiting a month, while providing virtual instruction will give us time to slow the spread—especially if families use the time to return to “school mode”, and begin limiting some of the increased exposure that came with the relative freedom of the summer months. Going back to school and staying back in school will benefit all of our students more than a quick return followed by an inevitable series of unplanned disruptions. 

We talk a lot about the consequences of virtual instruction for another month, but we also need to talk about the consequences of returning to an in-person model before the data shows that it is safe to do so. Schools are small communities. If you have ever been a part of a school that has lost just one student or one teacher, you know how profoundly that death affects the entire school community. We need carefully weigh our hurry to get our students back in school against the potentially devastating impact of a return too soon. One avoidable casualty is one too many. 

We need to focus our time and resources on fighting the effects of this virus, and not on fighting each other. We need to make sure that our impatience with this virus, and the situation that it creates, does not cause us to put our students, teachers, and communities unnecessarily at risk. Governor Beshear’s recommendation to delay in-person instruction will help us to do that--but we all need to do our part.

Nancy Bardgett is a retired special education teacher who is currently running for state representative in Kentucky House District 68 in Campbell County.

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