West Virginia law provides that “Each school should create an environment focused on student learning and one where students know they are valued, respected and safe.” Unless the coronavirus pandemic comes to a miraculous screeching halt, no school opening these days can comply with that law.
We can’t knowingly put students in harm’s way and at the same time claim they’re valued. The students can’t know they’re safe when, in fact, many believe they aren’t.
I haven’t spoken with one person who thinks we’ll make it through the school year without either shutting down or pressing on in the face of needless casualties. The consensus is that schools will open, the virus will spread among the kids, who will take it back to their parents and grandparents (some of whom will die), and then the schools will shut down again — hopefully until there’s a vaccine.
Months ago, West Virginians watched the news with pride as our state was the lone holdout — the last in the union to get an infection. We closed our schools in March, at a time when there were zero cases in our state. But we now have more than 10,000 cases, and we’re insisting on opening schools again. What kind of sense does that make? How dare we put our families in danger when we have a zero-risk alternative to in-person schooling?
As far as education is concerned, remote learning isn’t ideal, but the color-coded, week-to-week policy in effect now is substantially less ideal. In fact, it’s utter nonsense. Parents, teachers and students alike will be living in chaotic uncertainty, with no one knowing from week to week what they’ll be doing. That kind of instability will wreak havoc on the students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to plan.
Although remote education isn’t perfect, people aren’t going to die as a result of using a slightly less-effective method of learning for a year. In contrast, I think people will die as a result of sending students back into schools.
If we could, right now, see into the future and identify who could end up dying as a result of opening schools too soon, would things be the same? Would those insisting on in-person schooling look those people and their families in the eye and tell them their lives might be sacrificed because people want things back to normal right now? I have to think not, and the only difference between that and reality is that we don’t know who the victims might be ahead of time.
We could be playing Russian roulette with our kids, their parents and grandparents, our teachers, our cooks and our bus drivers. We’re making some of West Virginia’s most important workers choose between their health and their jobs. It’s downright immoral.
The safety of our students is something so important that our Legislature addressed it in multiple laws. To comply with those laws, our politicians, principals and board members must find ways to educate students without being responsible for spreading the virus. There is no other moral option.
If our leaders stubbornly — and possibly unlawfully — and immorally insist on continuing in-person classes, they ought to also go ahead and eliminate science courses from the curriculum. After all, why require kids to learn science if, as adults, our leadership refuses to accept it?