Red Jahncke’s recent column on COVID practices (“Let local school boards make sensible decisions on classroom instruction”) ignores the frightening reality that local decisions are putting entire school communities at risk. Many districts throughout the state are failing to implement safety protocols, jeopardizing the health of students and staff.
The research on COVID case rates in American schools is limited. Filling the data gap are inaccurate claims, such as the notion that schools are somehow safe havens in a pandemic. This kind of magical thinking is endangering students, staff, and entire communities.
Contrary to Jahncke’s claim that schoolchildren carry virtually no COVID risk, data from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows nearly 179,000 COVID-19 cases in children in just the last week of December, bringing the total reported cases in children to more than two million. Minimizing community exposure, not multiplying it, will help lead the way out of this pandemic.
The fact is that our state has marked two of the grimmest milestones in this pandemic: a nearly 11 percent infection rate and more than 6,500 lives lost. With almost every Connecticut town identified as a coronavirus red zone, it’s long past time for the state to establish consistent policies that ensure safe in-person learning — or, absent that, a mandate that schools move to all-remote learning.
Connecticut’s educators have done tremendous work since this pandemic began. Teachers’ workdays begin before dawn, end late at night, and go long into the weekend as they strive to ensure every child is engaged, cared for, and learning. From kindergarten through 12th grade, they have adapted quickly and constantly to new instructional environments, including teaching simultaneously to students in their classrooms and at home. Their work has doubled and even tripled, and it has spilled over, as it always does for teachers, into ensuring their students’ well-being not only in the context of the classroom but also at home. The Board of Education Union Coalition is asking that their efforts not be undone by some false idea that schools are pandemic-proof. They are not.
The Coalition is calling for a statewide mandate to ensure districts put safety first, follow the advice of health experts, and take the wisest course of action to contain the virus and reduce the loss of life.