School’s Out!

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By: Zsa Zsa Laing

Zsa Zsa Laing

Since school ‘closed’ for the summer months the question of school opening has been in the forefront of the world’s collective mind. When should it start? How should students interact? Will there be cafeterias or lunch spots? How will risk of COVID 19 be mitigated? What will be done in cases of illness? These thought exercises have taken place in The United States, Europe, The Bahamas, all over, as stakeholders try to figure the best way to open schools again, how this will affect students and families, and the overall cost of such an opening.

The people involved in this process often approach it from varying directions and sometimes from diverging points of view. Still, everyone in every community and country has a vested interest, as this decision will affect not only the here and now but also our future.

First, everyone is aware of one important thing. This thing is that without schools being reopened, the economy will not be able to resume any semblance of normalcy and so generally, things will not be able to get back even close to the way it used to be. What this means to people is manifold. To parents, this means that they might be unable to support their family’s needs because they are not working; or they may have to work, because of an essential worker status and may feel pressure and frustration about a safe place to leave their child/children while they continue working.

For businesses or people who have business concerns, while they may be interested in their employees returning to the office, or the work site, they are also aware that they need a singleminded worker, and not one who is so concerned about their children’s welfare as to make their return pointless. Additionally, businesses are concerned about their bottom lines; after all, they do operate for profit. What sense does it make to have a business that is not doing business? Many small businesses may close, and even large industries may have to downsize, thereby worsening an already distressing economic outlook and costing hundreds of jobs.

Educators play an important role in this process as well, maybe the most salient. Even as many teachers, administrators, school boards etc. want students to return to school, they are also fearful that school may not be ready at this juncture for a return. They point to the fact that although the science, as we know it today, does not seem to put younger people at a disadvantage with COVID 19; it does put at risk older persons, or people with underlying health issues.

Generally, most teachers and administrators fall into either high or moderate risk categories for catching COVID 19 and this fact cannot be overlooked.

Government and government agencies are also looking into school openings to jump start their lagging economies. Many western countries are watching European and Asian countries and taking notes on what they are doing or have done, and what could be replicated in their own nations to open with the least possible risk. This task is huge. It not only requires creative thinking; considering that the number of school buildings have not increased while the numbers, of people who will need to be occupying the spaces may have; it also requires an investment of possibly millions more in dollars – due to the enhanced cleaning, sanitization and disinfection schedules that must now be followed due to a disease that is both silent and a killer.

 Finally, and usually the last to be considered, are the students themselves. Most of the talk about school re-opening seems to travel over the heads of the very ones who are the clients of our school operations – the students. They have a price to pay as well, and they have a stake in what happens.

They have concerns and they have thoughts about possible solutions and pathways that can be explored for their own safety and security. Usually, however, they are not enquired of. They are looked at as pieces on the chess board where the “adults in the room” can move them at will. While they may be at a lesser risk of death due to COVID 19, students can be asymptomatic carriers, and to a lesser degree, can contract the illness as well.

This not only impacts them, but their extended families, who they must return to daily. They will be asked to wear masks, social distance, eat lunch individually, possibly give up their social groups at school and more.

They also should have a say in what is done going forward. What, then, is the solution? How can we safely return to school? These questions are large and all encompassing. They involve every part of society and require both open communication and creative out-of-the-box thinking – which are often both in short supply at times. We cannot afford not to put our nations and societies at further risk and so until we come up with not just a good plan, but the best plan – SCHOOL’S OUT!

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