Myra Ross: ‘Err on the side of health and safety’

  • Sunnyside Elementary School fourth-grader Miriam Amacker does school work in her room at her family's home in San Francisco April 9.  AP

Published: 8/4/2020 4:04:49 PM

I was honored to work in the Guidance Department of Amherst High School for 20 years. I am concerned that if schools open next month, the health and safety of my former colleagues, the students, and those they live with will be endangered.

All education professionals know that students learn best with other children from face-to-face instruction. It fosters the relationships between students and adults that are essential for lasting learning and enjoyment of school. Remote learning is challenging and inadequate for most teachers and students as it is for parents, whether working from home or in high-risk worksites.

Although children should be in school, it is ill-advised now given the dangerousness of COVID-19 and the likelihood that the prevalence will increase when 15,000 college students arrive. Children in second grade and below and others with special needs should return to school first when it is safe. Schools will likely have insufficient physical barriers, personal protective equipment, staff and supplies to keep all surfaces and bathrooms sanitized, and insufficient ventilation (especially once it is too cold to open windows).

Even with half of the students in school at a time, it will be a challenge to keep students safely distanced. If staff become ill, don’t expect substitutes to put themselves at risk for little more than minimum wage. Don’t expect normal curriculum content and progress either. With the hybrid plan, classes will be divided in half; students and teachers will not interact every day.

When there are no good choices, err on the side of health and safety. If schools open in mid-September, they will likely close by October. Where will we be then? In March, everything closed before the virus could take hold here. This time, we may not be so lucky. More community members will become seriously ill or die of COVID-19 if schools reopen than if education remains remote until the risk decreases.

Is one month of in-person instruction worth the risks? No. For most students, lost academic ground can be recovered. The emotional scars from the loss of loved ones children may inadvertently infect do not heal.

Myra Ross

Amherst




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