Editor’s note: This commentary is by Keri Gelenian, who is head of schools at Rivendell Interstate School District in Fairlee.
According to President Donald Trump the nation is not at risk from the coronavirus. Now Trump and many governors say schools must open for in-person instruction. The federal government might provide schools additional funding, but Sen. Mitch McConnell won’t say if funding will be restricted to schools that open for in-person instruction. Our nation desperately needs schools to open — safely. What confidence have leaders given teachers, students, and parents that this can happen? I would argue very little.
The most recent public argument for opening elementary schools has been that younger children do not get sick or transmit the virus. This point ignores the fact that everyone would be less at risk if our leaders mandated masks in public and physical distancing and required a low infection rate as a necessary condition for any community, county or states to remain open.
The push to reopen schools ignores the fact that our schools have not recovered funding since the careless and misguided speculation that brought our economy to its knees in 2008. Asking schools to now pay for the technology, space, and additional supplies to open safely is an unrealistic burden. Opening schools under current conditions ignores the fact that teachers or their family members might be health compromised. It ignores the fact that the cold and flu season begins in early November in the northern states. National and state leaders have not done enough to mitigate the death, sickness, and economic meltdown caused by this pandemic. They ask educators to open schools when they have failed to create conditions to open schools safely. They have put the nation at risk.
Their concern focuses not on education but economics and getting reelected. It is not and never has been the responsibility of education to assure the economic well-being of the nation. It is the role of business to do so and to do so in an ethical, and environmentally responsible manner. If our political leaders see in-school instruction as part of a healthy economy, then let them provide the conditions for teachers and students to occupy classrooms safely by providing funding for schools and policies that require masks, physical distancing, and low infection rates as a requirement for areas to remain open. These are necessary conditions for safe school openings and a safe society. If people can’t abide by these conditions, then they should not complain about fully remote instruction this year or scapegoat teachers for conditions that were not of their making.