Almost 30% of NC School Districts Are Open for In-Person Learning. Why?

A NC teacher says that, with almost 30% of school districts reopening for in-person learning, district leaders are making a mistake. (Image via Shutterstock)

By Kim Mackey

August 27, 2020

A NC teacher talks about the dangers of returning to in-person classrooms that simply aren’t safe enough to protect from coronavirus.

When I was in high school, I lost a friend to a tragic car accident at an intersection that was known to be problematic. 

Despite numerous accidents before the one that claimed Molly’s life, nothing was done to upgrade the traffic light from flashing yellow for one road, and flashing red for the traversing road.

For being such a highly literate society, we sure have a penchant for ignoring the writing on the walls and assume denial and inflated invincibility will keep our communities safe – bad things only happen to other people, right?

Not long after that intersection claimed the life of my 14-year-old friend, the traffic lights were upgraded to full three-colored signals.

As a social studies teacher, I appreciate the lessons of history in guiding future decisions by recognizing patterns between past and present so we can build on or replicate what worked well, and avoid repeating prior mistakes.

Reopening school buildings without full funding of Department of Health and Human Services requirements, nor acknowledgement of data ringing alarm bells, is akin to operating a poorly resourced intersection.

It is not a matter of if anyone will be hurt, but how many must suffer before reason prevails?

As of last week, almost 30% of North Carolina’s students were attending classes in districts hosting in-person instruction

Child development informs us that we develop object permanence around six months old.  Yet six months into living during a global pandemic of a novel virus, too many adults still choose to wear blinders instead of masks.

We don’t have time to play high-stakes peek-a-boo to get them on board with recognizing that even if something cannot be seen, it still exists. 

We certainly cannot let them develop that skill by testing the disappearance of our students, educators, or their family members.

In non-pandemic times, I’ve looked at my classmate’s memorialized empty seat during an orchestra performance. I’ve broken news to a classroom of students that their friend has died. I’ve mourned with colleagues at the passing of a coworker.  

During a pandemic, I’ll trade the weaknesses of online instruction any day over the consequences of hastily returning to an under-resourced congregant setting.

As the mother of two young school-aged children I’m not immune to the challenges of online learning, but I’d rather mourn an ideal school year than mourn a child, student, or colleague.    

With 40% of cases asymptomatic and community spread beyond the capacity of contract tracing to mitigate the novel virus, we still don’t know what we don’t know.  All the more reason not to gamble with the backbones of our communities – our schools. 

Disinfecting surfaces and temperature checks are more security theater than significant interventions, and distract from addressing more expensive and substantial airborne precautions such as HVAC upgrades.

It’s easier to recognize and address a soiled surface than deficiencies in air quality, but this façade defies our state’s motto: To be, rather than to seem.

Only one week into the school year, North Carolina’s schools hosting students in-person already face closures and are pivoting to online instruction.

The HVAC systems in schools during a novel airborne virus are as inadequate as flashing yellow and red lights at a busy high-speed intersection.  It was a problem even before the pandemic, but there has been a lack of will to address it because apparently it has not yet made enough people sick to do something about it.

We all want to see the green light on resuming our regular routines, but as long as folks keep slamming on the gas to avoid the yellow and red lights, we’re destined to mourn more people over a longer period compared to other developed countries.

Why wait until it hurts someone in your circle to take it seriously?


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