I appreciate all the feedback, pro and con, that I’ve received for my point-of-view on a staggered re-opening model. More of it is pro, at this point; but there is some con, too.
I do think there is some misunderstanding on one element: I don’t want to require anyone to do e-learning. I do want to require a slow, staggered start to in-person learning — so that it has chance of working. That’s what other countries have done. I’m not in charge; but as far as I’m concerned, you shouldn’t have to start on e-learning if you don’t want. I want to make it available to you; but if I were in charge, you wouldn’t have to start anything on any set date. If I were in charge, all stupid and inflexible state requirements from seat time to testing to school grades would have been killed long ago.
However, I am not in charge. Elected boards appear to be third on the ranking behind the governor and superintendents.
But I do intend to go on the record, with a formal vote, about the disaster in the making that comes from dumping tens of thousands of kids on terrified school staff on Aug. 24 with no meaningful safety measures in place or ability to practice new ways of interacting with kids at scale. The promise I have always made to the public is to be honest. My entire existence as a politician is an experiment in whether you can tell people the truth and survive.
I’m not going to start lying now at the ultimate moment of truth.
Principles and facts concerning reopening
These are my personal principles for addressing school reopening. You will notice that none of them has anything to with politics. They are moral and operational principles.
- I don’t want to kill anyone or cause anyone long-term health harm.
- I don’t want to coerce anyone, whether that be parent or employee.
- In-person school communities are extraordinarily important. They are the heart of the entire reason I decided to run for School Board in the first place. E-learning is a poor substitute. COVID education is never going to be “good,” in any form.
- I want in-person learning to actually succeed, operationally, and not quickly collapse into a massive mess that dooms all in-person learning for the whole year or even beyond.
- I don’t care at all about the specific state requirements for calendar or seat time. They are incompatible with building a meaningful COVID-era educational model.
- Indoor education models are far more dangerous than outdoor models, because of dissipation and ventilation issues. I believe we can accelerate in-person learning outside as weather permits.
- Ramp up time should nor require the district to fire anyone or lay anyone off. There is plenty of work to do. I will vote against any short-term staff reduction. But if layoffs occur, it will be because the state and federal government have failed to support schools and the people of schools in any way.
- I don’t do magical thinking about capacity. When the August 24 Big Bang opening fails miserably, I want to people to know I tried to think of a better, safer, more humane way.
Now here are facts about school reopening, which must bear on my principles as an elected board member.
- According to the president’s guidelines, as communicated by the CDC, Florida should not even be talking about reopening. We are back in stage 1 as a state, because of rank mismanagement of the virus response.
- The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics explicitly states that under these viral circumstances Florida schools should not be trying to open to in-person schooling. Part of the reason is that they’ll likely be forced to close again quickly. Key quote: “Currently, viral infection rates in Florida are extremely high, with a rolling average of 14.2% of tests positive for new infections over the past two weeks. Public health experts and infectious disease physicians almost universally recommend that children not go to schools until the positive test rate is 3-5% over a rolling two week average. If children go to school with such high infection rates, schools will be forced to close very quickly after opening, and many children and families will likely become ill with SARS- CoV-2. In other parts of the world where schools have successfully opened the infection rates from SARS-CoV-2 were much lower than here in Florida.”
- Countries that successfully opened, like Denmark, had vastly reduced viral prevalence. And, they used a prioritized, staggered start, just like I’m suggesting. Please see this study. Local schools in other countries also had strong support at the national and regional level. Our schools do not. So our staggered start will have to be slower and more careful. But it’s the same principle.
- A Polk school staff member died this week from COVID.
- I have no confidence at all in the effectiveness of protective measures being taken for children or staff in our schools. This not the fault of our district people; it is the fault of state and federal government for creating an impossible situation with bungling and politics. In no other country are the people of schools left to fend for themselves while their leaders set them up for blame or personal harm, or both.
- The state of Florida is coercing districts into rushed openings for political reasons; Polk County is coercing our employees into in-person work in a variety of ways because coercion runs downhill. That’s a redline for me; and I won’t vote to approve of it.
- The Polk County Commission will not even approve a county-level mask directive to reduce community spread to make re-opening safer.
The connection of my principles and the known facts are why I propose to build in-person enrollment slowly, starting with the kids with the most urgent needs and the youngest kids, just like Denmark and others did. I think it is the only chance we have to make this work. The first quarter is just a useful marker for thinking about it. It could happen faster or slower, depending on circumstances.
Again, I appreciate the engagement; I would urge people to tell me where I’m wrong.