- Education can be adapted. Education can wait. Life is more important.
“I wish I could go swimming”, whined my daughter, tired of playing video games.
“Yes, I wish you could go and get some exercise too”, I said, running my fingers through her silky messy hair.
“I miss sleepovers, I just want to go out…”, said my daughter. I agreed, although I am fairly happy with teaching art online at Santa Ana College from home and spending time with my teenage daughter, I know she wanted to get out.
Normally, schools reopening meant some cherished “me time” after having the kid full time at home for the entire summer.
But this year, I dreaded the word “schools reopening.” It runs shivers down my spine.
Schools reopening? Wait, what? Why? How?
What good news did the scientists and doctors give about the Covid-19 that spurs such optimism on part of the school system? Last time I checked, there were 136,384 cases in Los Angeles county alone, 2,788 cases added every day. 3,809 of them had died already. According to the Los Angeles Times, there are 334,849 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in California. 8,934 new cases were added just today, July 13th.
How can we even pretend that things are normal?
The school district tried to ease my fears through a detailed Zoom meeting, attended by all the dignitaries in the school district. The school officials carefully went over many aspects of how they planned to go about the school reopening with “the new guidelines for social distancing.” The entire medical community, scientists, doctors, epidemiologists all over the world do not have the answers to the problems of the virus, how can the school officials be so sure that they have a handle on the situation? Why is there a pressure to act like things are normal when our kids’ lives are at stake?
I did not get a chance to ask any questions in the meeting, as there were too many participants. I, a mother and an educator, have way too many questions right now.
First of all, how will they check that the students, teachers, secretaries, and staff do not have the Coronavirus, for sure? (They said they would check temperatures of everyone who walks in — great idea)
Is checking students’ temperatures an effective precaution?
- How will they check temperatures of 500-1,000 students coming into school at 7:45 am-8:00 am each day? What if their thermometer doesn’t work well each time? (I know my thermometer at home malfunctions all the time).
- Does the school have additional staff to check the temperature for hundreds of students? What if that staff member who checks temperature encounters someone who is Covid positive — they could be at such a great risk themselves.
They said the school would have block schedules, there will only be 16 students per class, which is a great idea. Sixteen does seem like a less crowded class than 25.
Again, these questions came up in my mind:
How about the schools in socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods? How about the schools in less affluent neighborhoods, where infrastructure is already lacking, the rooms smaller, maintenance poor? What if the basic student teacher ratio is very high already? What if they do not have enough thermal scanners to check all students’ temperatures? What if they do not possess enough supplies of masks, hand sanitizers and hand soaps?
How about the charter schools and private schools? We know that they do not need to adhere to the guidelines that the public schools have to follow. Some private schools have been known to take liberties to look past the need for vaccination records. Are private schools and colleges allowed to contribute to an increasing number of Covid-19 cases to charge their tuition fees and make more money?
How about preschools, kindergarten? What about special education? The kids in these classes are much more dependent on the teachers and need one on one physical contact for tying shoelaces, wiping noses etc. Are the teachers and teachers’ aides at a greater risk of infection?
What happens when teachers contract Covid-19?
- What if a teacher tests positive and passes out quiz papers or supplies to students? (the teachers are being exposed to so many students every day, most teachers are middle-aged or older adults, thus more vulnerable to the virus). A middle school/ High school teacher teaches an average of 150 kids in a day, 75 in a block schedule. Do you want your kid to be one of the 75 kids to contract Covid-19 while he or she went to school to give a math quiz?
- Is it fair to the teachers to get Covid-19 because they were just doing their job? What about their families?
Classes held in closed rooms
- What if the AC in the room circulates the Covid-19 infected air? As a teacher and parent, I know most schools operate in closed rooms with air conditioners on at all times.
Kids just being kids. What if kids met with their friends secretly and hugged them or played pranks on each other that involved touching (kids do that, you know). Kids know that no adults are allowed in the restroom, how can we ensure social distancing there? Is it possible to watch what kids do at all times? If it was possible to monitor and control at all times, there would be no bullying, no discipline issues whatsoever in any school at any time, we know that is not true.
- School kids fake stomach aches and headaches to dodge a quiz or a bully or the pain of education. What if the kids are faking coughs sometimes, and someday they actually have a real cough and Covid-19, and we cannot tell the difference?
What if some students refuse to wear masks? What if 30% of students refuse to wear a mask? (I know more than 30% of adults don’t wear masks, and they are convinced about their stance). What if one student is Covid-19 positive, sneaks by and comes to school. What if they refuse to wear a mask? What if they share the desk, books, paper, pencil with another child? What if the student with the virus touches the water faucet in the restroom and washes hands in a hurry to make it to the next lecture? (Students often rush from one room to another to make it in time in middle school and high schools and colleges.)
The school officials say that they can only “encourage” the students to wear masks, provide free masks for two months, but they cannot make the masks mandatory. The school officials said that they had enough supplies for two months. What happens after two months if the students say they cannot afford a mask or forget their mask at home?
Is hand washing 100 % germ free? Most adults or children do not know the thorough way of washing hands — only nurses and doctors learn how to really wash hands to protect themselves against the possibility of infection — it is a very methodical process that can easily take 7-10 minutes.
Following is a video on how to wash hands like a surgeon.
As you can expect, neither our kids nor do we follow this protocol of washing hands. The student with Coronavirus infection is no exception. How many students will touch the same water faucet after him or her? What if they are out of soap? (School restrooms often have no more than five water faucets, sometimes only two of which work).
School officials already said that they could only clean the restroom no more than twice a day. Obviously, one cannot expect the teachers to wipe everyone’s desks after they leave, as the teachers say they are already overworked. There is barely any time between the two classes.
What if the custodian and cleaning staff in the school is Covid-19 positive? The cleaning staff would have been in every room, touched every faucet and every restroom. What measures can the school staff take to protect our kids from these mishaps? The staff is at risk themselves!
What happens when the school finds out that one or two persons tested positive? What if that happens to be your kid? Is the death of one or two students worth the education? Would you like to put your child’s life at stake to participate in this experiment called social distancing?
There are 1,000 public schools and 200 charter schools in Los Angeles county alone. What if ten schools have one or two Covid-19 cases, next day ten multiply by 100, ie, 1,000 people line up to get testing? Can the medical system support these many additional cases?
Is learning algebra and essay writing and taking a quiz in person, worth all this risk?
What we really need at this time?
I understand if some parents may not be comfortable with online education. Maybe, they have to work or do not know how to support their child’s online education as they may not have college degrees. We should definitely find a way to support those parents by giving extra tutoring to their kids and perhaps training to the parents too.
America is hurting right now. Many people do not have savings to pay rent and may need to work to feed their families. What we need at this time is rent and mortgage forgiveness, a reasonable amount of stimulation check, every month to all the needy families that need help.
What we need at this time is reliable, good online virtual academies. What we need is stimulating art, music, films, and educational materials supplied online to us for free, right at home. We need iPads, ChromeBooks for our students who do not have access to them. (The schools have been good about providing these).
We need mental health support supplied to all and anyone in need at low/no cost. We need schools, colleges offering their education for free or highly reduced rates so that everyone can stay mentally stimulated and productive, safe at home.
The entire community of doctors, nurses, surgeons, scientists do not have an answer for this virus yet. We know they are overworked, they are working hard, putting their own lives at risk, is it not our duty to keep ourselves, our kids, and our community safe by choosing online education only? Granted, some subjects cannot be taught as properly online as they can be taught in person, but any good teacher knows, they have to constantly change with changing times. Every student must have a choice and required support to take all the classes entirely online from their own homes. Education can be adapted; education can wait. Life is more important.
Nirali Thakkar teaches painting and art history at Santa Ana College, North Orange County Community College District and California Miramar University. She studied Fine Arts at Parsons School of Design, New York, earned a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in Painting from M.S. University, India. She loves to write, travel, play with her cat and eat desserts with her daughter.