School Reopening

Below is a mail chimp email blast my office sent out on July 15th. I’ve been receiving a lot of calls about schools reopening, so I wanted to share my thoughts to my website as well. If you’re interested in signing up for the email blasts, please fill out the contact form at the bottom of my website’s homepage.  Stay healthy!

Friends,

 

My name is Jonathan Carroll, and I’m your State Representative. Thank you for signing up for our email service, I hope to continue to use this newsletter as a way of consistently updating my constituents on what is going on in Springfield and around our district. The 57th District is comprised of Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Des Plaines, Glenview, Mount Prospect, Northbrook, Palatine, Prospect Heights, and Wheeling. I wanted to talk to you today about the latest discussion surrounding reopening our schools. 

Let me be very clear. I want to see our schools and society open up as quickly and responsibly as possible. 2020 has been very challenging on all of us and getting back to the pre-COVID world is our number one goal.

 

As a parent of two school-age children, E-Learning performed far below our expectations. Almost every parent we speak with agrees with this assessment, and we’re all worried about our kids falling behind. Most school districts would also admit that the model presented wasn’t up to the high standards we’ve grown to expect from our institutions of education. In defense of our schools, it’s doubtful that any school district had a pandemic contingency plan already on the books. The best efforts were put forward considering the circumstances, but the remote learning strategy has proven insufficient thus far.

If schools would have had a better model in the spring, the concerns of parents around E-Learning would be much less pronounced. My kids were done learning within two hours of getting work. The engagement with teachers was lacking. Again, this isn’t a blame thing. This is a reality thing. We must learn from this process in order to grow it.

 

I’ve been involved in the discussion regarding my local school district’s reopening plan, as well as communicating with other schools in the area. Let’s start with the financial reality, schools are anticipating over $1 million dollars in additional costs to get schools prepared in the COVID world. In all honesty, this cost will almost certainly go up. There’s no price we put on the education of our children, but this comes at a time when our resources are already spread too thin. 

 

Here’s an example. The busing of children will now be much more challenging (and expensive). Since buses can’t be filled to capacity, additional runs will be necessary. Plus, buses will need to be staffed by an additional adult to make sure children are socially distancing and following all the safety precautions. The additional costs of running more bus routes and properly staffing those buses will increase transportation costs well-beyond the normal budget. 

 

But it’s time to be realistic. Despite the amount of Internet experts, armchair advisors and outright conspiracy theorists that have flooded the public discourse over the past few months, it’s very clear that we still don’t fully understand this disease and its impacts. We don’t know its long-term effects. What we do know is that it’s highly contagious and spreads very quickly. What we have seen is that research consistently indicates that the best way to control the spread of COVID19 is to practice social distancing, wearing a mask, regularly washing hands and other frequently touched surfaces. 

 

Applying what I just said to an educational environment, let’s assume that we open schools without any restrictions. If one student shows up to school infected, they have a chance of infecting hundreds of their classmates, and several staff in a single day. Anyone who that individual came in contact with must self-quarantine for 14 days. This would quickly result in students missing school, teacher shortages, and logistical nightmares around busing. While I don’t have a crystal ball, the statistics and viruliency of this virus show us that chances are high that someone will be COVID19 positive and our schools will be back to square one.

 

Before the American public even heard the term Novel Coronavirus, we were dealing with a teacher shortage. What’s perhaps even more challenging in the present reality is finding substitute teachers. To top that off, finding bus drivers is even harder than classroom staff. In other words, if individuals must self-quarantine, even under the best-case scenario finding replacements is going to be a HUGE struggle. The domino effect of even one individual testing positive in a school can be catastrophic to the educational process. We’re going to be dealing with an educational crisis. 

 

As indicated above, wearing masks and social distancing are two of the most effective ways to slow the spread of this disease. Recent models show that if even 80% of the American populace wore masks regularly when in public, the transmission rate would be reduced drastically. Those numbers seem to fall apart when the mask wearing rate is reduced to even 50%. Most people, thankfully, seem to understand these concepts. However, we still see individuals in public who refuse to follow this policy. What makes this worse is that there’s parents who also don’t want children to follow this rule. If schools are to reopen, masks have to be mandatory. There are challenges of maintaining masks, but we must do everything possible to slow the spread of this horrible disease. In recent remarks, Governor Pritzker made it very clear that masks are going to be mandatory in schools.

 

We’re already seeing the repercussions of premature and irresponsible reopening. Florida was heralded as the model of how to effectively re-open, and now a few weeks later, Miami has the dubious distinction of being the COVID capital of the world. While on the subject of Florida, let’s clear up a huge misnomer. In a July 14th Sun Sentinel article, 31.1 percent of 54,022 children tested in Florida were diagnosed COVID19 positive. To put this in perspective, the rate in Florida is around 11 percent overall. This disease can and will continue to  impact children. There’s a dangerous narrative about children being effectively immune to COVID, but this has been discredited.

Unfortunately, we can see this happening in our neck of the woods as well. Last week in Lake Zurich, at least 36 students tested positive for COVID-19. Several of these kids were involved with summer sports camps. While Lake County Health Department officials say contact tracing and case investigations identified several social gatherings prior to these camps might be the culprit, but we can’t ignore this data. We can’t ignore how dangerous and quickly this disease spreads. I hope all of these students and their families see a swift recovery.

 

We have around a month and half or so before schools are going to restart. A lot can happen in this time, but it’s important to take a step back and understand the realities of reopening the schools and the risks and dangers involved. 

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