Reopening Schools Is Only Part of the Battle

With blue-state Governor Andrew Cuomo signaling a desire to open K-12 schools in the fall, the tide may be swinging towards the end of widespread school shutdowns. But the battle is far from over. Lost in the debates between teachers, teachers’ unions, administrators, parents, and kids is clear communication to the public for what both K-12 schools and colleges will actually look like when reopened.

I got a first-hand glimpse of this reality as I moved toward my fall semester of teaching. Let’s just say I need to get Doc Brown, a DeLorean, a flux capacitor, and some plutonium fast.

Not that I need to say this to American Greatness readers, but I’m not writing from some self-centered, heartless point of view. If anything, I should welcome any restrictions that minimize the chance that I will get infected by my students. But I’m not afraid of a virus with at 99.97 percent recovery rate before stratifying the data. Rather, I’m more concerned for the students’ sake, because I don’t think they realize the restrictions they are coming back to. I hope I’m wrong.

As the summer has progressed and I became privy to policy changes at my own school and at other schools in the area, I found it harder to refrain from reflexively pushing back at the insanity. It does not take long to find policies for schools under the COVID-1984 “new normal.”

Forget about being able to use facial expressions to aid teaching and learning. Face coverings are mandatory for teachers and students. That will not be fun for hearing-impaired students, either. I was actually offered a megaphone to use in class. 

Forget about experiential learning as well. Students will be socially distanced in the classroom with mandatory seating charts for contact tracing. Many exams will be electronic to cut down on passing out infected paper. Mail-in voting will have nothing on the type of cheating that could take place. That’s just in the classroom. 

University students have a life, often a campus life, outside of class. That world is going to be regulated to the tune of limiting gathering in living spaces. Conflict is also likely if one roommate is on Team Mask and the other is on Team Face. I hope all deans of students are prepared to work overtime.

Maybe the students will embrace this environment. But, I wouldn’t write this essay if I wasn’t concerned.

At the root of these restrictions seems to be a blind, religious-like faith in the pronouncements of the Centers for Disease Control and their guidelines. Yet, we should be reminded that much of what the government-chosen scientists have modeled has needed revision, and even if many of their recommendations had merit, many institutions have lost sight that these are only guidelines. 

For those who like analogies, an appropriate comparison would be with the USDA’s dietary guidelines. Most people are aware of the magical 2,000-calories-a-day guidelines or the modern, colorful “MyPlate.” Could you imagine if governments took these guidelines to the level that they are taking the COVID rules? After all, given the obesity rates and the associations between obesity and health outcomes, including COVID-19, couldn’t one assert that obesity is a public health crisis?

If governors started throwing mandates around based on dietary guidelines, imagine widescale menu changes needed at most restaurants. Could anyone order fish and chips without also having to pay for a government-mandated side of broccoli? Imagine the shaming that the Karens would perform towards parents serving Happy Meals to their kids in the park.

Yes, the battle to simply open schools is important, but just like we cannot vote Republican and expect all our small government wishes to be carried out, we also cannot simply assume schools will be back to their flawed normal when they reopen unless there is a grassroots effort to push forth an anti-restriction vision.

I’m not going to sugar coat my recommendations. 

I’d summarize my views with a reference from Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, Dr. Donald Henderson: “Evidence has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted.” 

Local communities need to organize and push for schools to be open across the board with no restrictions for most of their population. 

For those who wish to self-identify as high-risk, their arrangements whether teacher, student, or administrator should be addressed on an individual basis, similar to accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If schools want to take some general precautions, they could look into limiting attendance at larger indoor gatherings, or move certain indoor gatherings outdoors, as the latter at this moment does not appear to be a large vector of transmission.

If this seems too utopian, it’s only because fans of liberty are so accustomed to compromising on the Left’s big government terms. 

Much of what is filtering out regarding reopening schools comes from the vantage point of having a sealed-off, sterile school and walking back restrictions a little at a time. This would only make some sense if lockdowns actually did anything, but as we’ve seen in California and recently in New Zealand, no matter what we do, the virus is gonna virus. This restrictive school climate will only exacerbate a prison-like feel, which is an ironic nod to the quip that schools and prisons have the same architects. 

Let’s start with the pre-COVID normal and force Team Apocalypse to justify their restrictions. They don’t get to impose unproven restrictions and force us to show why they don’t work. Doing so is more harmful to students than contracting COVID-19.

About Jason Fertig

Jason Fertig is an associate professor of management at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. His research interests involve effective management and leadership. He also has an interest in commenting on the state of higher education. He has written essays for the National Association of Scholars and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He also advises the College Republicans at the University of Southern Indiana.

Photo: Ilyaliren/Getty Images

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