For months we have shown support for the essential workers who have been at the frontline of protecting us or keeping our economy running during the COVID-19 crisis. Whether it’s health care workers, grocery clerks, or those who help transport people and goods, there have been various efforts to show public appreciation to people with jobs that are suddenly more risky than they once were. Now as the start of school approaches, we should add to that list the educators, school staff, and child care providers who work to educate and care for our children.
For much of the late spring and early summer it seemed there was a simple expectation that schools would reopen in August just as they always have. We had flattened the COVID curve and parents and kids were both ready for classroom learning and school activities to resume. But since late June, when corona infections began to rise again, there has been more uncertainty.
As more southern states, including Louisiana, have become COVID hotbeds, we’ve seen two conflicting questions emerge – how can we reopen schools in the current environment, and then, again, how can we not?
The American Academy of Pediatrics says it is critically important that we do reopen. In a recent statement the organization said it “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with the goal of having students physically present in school.”
It talked about the safety protocols that need to be in place to facilitate a return – precautions that very much mirror the guidance Louisiana has adopted – but it also talked about two risk factors. One is the health risk from the disease, but the other is the broader risk to children of learning loss, lack of mental health services, social supports, physical activities, and nutritional support if schools are closed.
It concluded, “Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home.”
The organization discussed actions that can be taken to mitigate the spread of the disease and the fact that children seem to be less likely to get infected and even to spread the disease. But it notes there are still risks.
That’s why our teachers, school staff, and child care providers must be considered frontline, essential workers. And since the reopening of school does place them at some degree of greater risk, it is critical that our school districts take the necessary steps to keep our classrooms clean and sanitized, enforce social distancing, and ensure the wearing of face coverings as appropriate.
But parents and families must do their part, too. It doesn’t help to protect schools if kids go back home to settings where others are not following the proper safety protocols. Every one of us has a role in protecting each other.
So, with the opening of school, whatever it may look like, just around the corner, let’s say thank you to our teachers, school staff, and child care workers. For them, an already tough job is now harder.
And while it’s probably true that thousands of parents realized a greater appreciation for teachers after schools closed in the spring, it’s most certainly true that we need to support our educators where we can, honor the critical work that they do, and ensure we take every step possible to keep them safe.