Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Why we shouldn't be attempting to send children to regular school during COVID-19

During the September 11 2001 attacks, 2,977 people died in the United States.  As of the morning of August 12 there have been 162,104 reported deaths from COVID-19 within the United States. Rounding the recent numbers it is similar to there being a S11 level of event every 4 days within the United States. Globally there have been 736,766 reported deaths thus far. These are reported deaths for COVID-19, and I expect we won't know the larger complete total until some time after the crisis is over.

After September 11, 2001 the west said that "the world changed", and many policies were put in place to try to prevent similar future events. While COVID-19 is a much larger crisis, and a global rather than country-specific crisis, we are not yet treating it with an appropriate level of urgency or requirement for future planning.

Several jurisdictions are wanting to send children back to school as if everything is normal.  In Ontario a few pennies per child are being spent for some protective equipment and cleaning. The poor conditions of the generally underfunded schools and small inadequately ventilated classrooms remain.

If citizens and governments were understanding COVID-19 as the crisis it is, the plan would be very different. While we need to provide something for children to do out of their homes during this crisis to allow their parents to return to work, that something isn't regular school. The infrastructure to provide a safe environment for those children and their families isn't available via the regular school system: there isn't enough teachers to act as supervisors, and there isn't the space in the classrooms to have appropriately small groups. Anything that children share with each other at school is brought home to their families, putting additional lives at unnecessary risk.

What is needed is to find additional space elsewhere, and to hire an adequate number of supervisors.  There are many appropriate adults that could be hired (university students and otherwise) that are without jobs, but to keep with the theme of safety there should be proper vetting ahead of time.  The same with organizing the spaces, given we need heated and properly ventilated spaces for the upcoming winter months.

Doing things right requires planning.  Instead at least the Ontario government has decided not to do any planning at all, and pretend that sending children back to their regular classroom qualifies as a plan.

Education is needed during this crisis, but the regular curriculum is not what is important.

We need to educate children, who will hopefully share with their parents, about situational awareness .  There are things which are important to take into consideration in decision making during a crisis, even one that is lasting for many months, that are not currently the focus.

We need to help with anxiety and other mental health.  Part of this relates to situational awareness where there is a need to focus on the important things, but to also disregard things which are not important.  Examples would be concern over teacher preparation, school curriculum, marks, or graduations.  Being concerned about these things increases stress for no value, and increases health risks by distracting from situational awareness.

While regular teaching staff should be included as child supervisors, regular school curriculum should not be a focus. I recognize this will be uncomfortable for regular teaching staff, especially at the high school level, but we need to remain aware of the crisis we are in and prioritize.

We need to help with the cognitive dissonance people have about COVID-19. With S11 there were visuals that were on a constant loop on television to remind people of the crisis, but these visuals don't exist with COVID-19.  I started this article with some numbers. Even when repeating the numbers comparing COVID-19 to the much smaller events of S11 that most people still emotionally believe that S11 was a larger crisis.

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