Elan Abrell: Remote school plan is the way to go

  • Back-to-school supplies await shoppers at a store on July 11 in Marlborough, Mass.  AP

Published: 8/4/2020 3:37:19 PM

A few days ago, on the first day of school at Greenfield Central Junior High School in Indiana, a student who attended multiple classes tested positive for the coronavirus. If Northampton schools are not remote in the fall, we should expect the exact same result.

Based on a study from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati, U.S. school closures between March and May might have led to over a million fewer COVID-19 cases and more than 40,000 fewer deaths. The states where schools closed the earliest, when cases were lowest, had the greatest decline in cases.

But according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, based on current infection rates, in Hampshire County at least one COVID-positive person would be expected to arrive at each school with approximately 500 people during the first week. And rates are currently rising in Massachusetts. As of Aug. 1, we had a 21% increase in COVID-positive cases over the previous 14 days.

With multiple colleges in the area planning to reopen with at least some in-person classes, and the virtually universal expectation by medical experts of a second wave of infections in the fall, we can count on cases rising even more in the area in the next few months. To be sure, there are still unknowns regarding coronavirus transmission by children. As Dr. Anthony Fauci told teachers in a July virtual town hall, “you’re going to actually be part of the experiment of the learning curve of what we need to know.”

However, the faculty, staff, and students in Northampton schools should not be forced to participate in a potentially fatal experiment. We do know that any form of in-person classes will put all these people at unnecessary risk. Without weekly rapid testing and a massive infrastructural overhaul of our school ventilation systems, both of which are impossible, it is also impossible to guarantee their safety with even the most conservative hybrid model.

For these reasons, the Northampton School Committee must vote for a remote school plan on Aug. 6.

Elan Abrell


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