Column

It’s Insane We’re Even Discussing Sending Kids to School This Fall

The Sophie’s choice between continued house arrest and potentially exposing our kids to the virus is no choice at all

Children in a pre-school class wear masks and sit at desks spaced apart as per coronavirus guidelines n Monterey Park, California. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

My kids aren’t going to school this fall. The district we live in has yet to formally enact its plans for the 2020–2021 school year, but it’s already issued statements saying that it plans on opening schools at an extremely limited capacity, in staggered groupings, with masks and distancing for students and teachers. They also plan on offering a 100% virtual curriculum to any parents who prefer it. That is what my wife and I prefer.

I can’t believe that she and I needed to think this over for as long as we did, but we did. That we even had to think it over is completely fucking insane given that Covid-19 is currently spreading across the country at a higher rate right now than it was when schools shut down en masse back in March. Long ago, the federal government and every state government should have recommended/ordered all schools closed for the entire fall, if not longer. Instead, Education Secretary/Frankenghoul Betsy DeVos has demanded schools reopen this fall, and White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that science — which is, you know, taught in school — “should not stand in the way” of such decisions. In any other country, my wife and I wouldn’t have any decision to make at all. Wise leadership would have already made it for us.

At every other level of government below that, Americans have gotten more mixed signals than I got from Jenny Hansen back in eighth grade.

Instead, the Trump administration would prefer, as always, that everyone be sick and miserable. At every other level of government below that, Americans have gotten more mixed signals than I got from Jenny Hansen back in eighth grade. New York City, like my county, is offering a “blended learning” model, with one toe dipped in in-person instruction and a few more dipped in the distance learning that students and teachers alike grew to despise over the final three months of last semester. The state quickly said it hadn’t approved that plan. California has ordered schools to begin the year fully online. Illinois has left individual districts to make their own plans but is requiring them to include masks and distancing in all of them. Florida had planned on ordering its schools to physically open on time — until it got sued into backtracking. Arizona, like Florida, is also threatening to cut funding for any school that goes all-virtual. Texas and Georgia — which alongside California, Arizona, and Florida complete the Axis of Covid Idiocy — aren’t quite sure what they’re doing about schools yet. Hence, most of us are unsure as well. The people tasked with making decisions in our best interests — we voted them into office to do this! — have been like, “You figure it out.”

And then there’s Missouri, which apparently thinks the coronavirus is something you just walk off, like a skinned knee.

So let me provide some clarity if I can: Opening schools again is fucking deranged. Again, I can’t believe I needed time to reach this conclusion. But it’s difficult when even seemingly respectable scientific institutions like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are putting out statements saying that they strongly recommend reopening schools in the fall because “although children and adolescents play a major role in amplifying influenza outbreaks, to date, this does not appear to be the case with SARS-CoV-2.” This statement, issued at the end of last month, has already been disproven.

The argument the AAP is making is that the damage wrought by all-virtual schooling — lack of proper instruction, no external stimuli, no social interaction or development — is potentially greater than the risk that Covid-19 poses. And trust me, I now have an intimate understanding of that risk. While my three kids, ages 8–14, were good soldiers about attending Zoom classes and getting their homework done in the spring, quarantine still made them lonely, unmotivated, irritated, and bored. So fucking bored. And we have a nice house, decent money, and web access. We’re equipped to handle quarantine about as well as anyone. I can’t even imagine how much e-school hampers the growth of families that have less or have no internet at all.

So I was more than tempted to send them back come Labor Day. My daughter, 14, is about to start high school. My older son, 11, middle school. These are vital transition years socially. My daughter is already at the age where she would rather be around literally any other people on Earth than her fucking parents. I’ve been 14 years old, too. I relate to her feelings intimately. But since March, she’s been trapped like a bug in a jar. She wants her life back, and I want her to have her life back. I want my life back, too. When our county was like, “Hey, we’re thinking about giving school a shot,” my first reaction was “Oh god, yes, please get these people the fuck out of this house.” I haven’t been alone in my house in nearly half a year. Every time I make myself nachos, someone else knows about it. It’s horrible.

But now tens of millions of parents are about to make the Sophie’s choice between continued house arrest and exposing their kids to a virus that could very well kill them and those they touch. And not only do we have to consider the lives of our own children when we make this decision, but we’ve got to consider the health of teachers (who have already made it clear that they want to stay the fuck home), administrators, janitors, bus drivers, and other parents. We aren’t qualified to make these decisions. In theory, our leaders would be meticulously prepared to make them for us. Instead, virtually all of them have made the catastrophic decision to slowly ease us back into day-to-day living, which has resulted in mass tragedy. And they appear tempted, just as I was, to include school in that fatal reopening plan. Look at the curves, man. Look at what reopening has done for us so far. Now they wanna open schools, too? Either they don’t understand how much worse that’s going to make this crisis, or they simply don’t give a fuck. In America 2020, I already know the answer.

Children are going to die this fall. Many of them. I know this country is already inured to needless child death, what with the school shootings and the immigrant concentration camps and whatnot. But there’s no need to expand that portfolio. My wife is a preschool teacher. She’s not going back to work this fall. How can she? How do you keep a mask on a four-year-old? How do you keep four-year-olds from touching each other during circle time? You don’t. The only way to win the game is not to have playtime.

Some working parents in my area are clamoring for schools to reopen because they have to work and perhaps because they have more of their identity invested in their careers than they have in looking after their kids. Closing schools will undoubtedly screw over a lot of these working parents, particularly those with younger children. The government should — and I’m already laughing at the idea of them actually doing this — bail out these parents and pay them to keep their kids out of school to keep everyone safe. But of course, they should have done that seven fucking months ago, and they didn’t. Now the stakes are higher, and somehow their incentive to help us has lessened. I’m not gonna offer my children up to this horseshit. The risk level is well beyond what a rational parent would deem acceptable. I know it, and you probably know it too. Shut down the schools. Shut them all down, from preschool to grad school. There are some things not worth learning.

Columnist at GEN. Co-founder, Defector. Author of Point B.

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