Commentary: It’s imperative for kids to be in open schools this fall

By Reid K. Beveridge

The state teachers’ union doesn’t care how much harm it inflicts on Delaware’s children.

Or how much stress it inflicts on its own members, it would appear.

Indeed, the state Teacher of the Year says schools shouldn’t reopen until there is a “guarantee” that no teacher and no student will get COVID-19. That is preposterous, since no such guarantee can be given. “No” means none. There always will be one or a few.

It is imperative that schools reopen this fall for in-person instruction. That may mean a delay of a few weeks or even a month or two while school districts get ready. But open they must, for several reasons.

Probably the best reason is the simple fact that kids belong in school, not at home. Not at home at least unless the parents are intentionally — note that I said intentionally — home-schooling their children. Home schooling has its place. Parents who choose to do that are signing up for a whole different experience than some variation of “virtual” instruction provided by school districts.

No less than a national association of pediatric doctors has said that getting kids back in school is vital for their own well-being. That’s a fact on several levels.

Most important is the simple fact that virtual school doesn’t work very well. One parent said her son wasn’t required to do the work. Everyone will “pass,” the teacher told him. We know that some teachers didn’t take attendance.

We also know that too many low-income kids don’t have a computer or don’t have access to wideband internet. In other words, they don’t have WiFi at home. Libraries might have filled in some of that gap, but libraries are closed. Some might have gone to some establishment with WiFi, such as Starbucks or McDonald’s. But they were closed, too. Same for churches, too.

You won’t hear it from their unions or in mainstream media, but it was pretty awful for the teachers. Instead of interacting with kids in a classroom, teachers were chained to their computers for seven to eight hours a day. No class discussion. It was one-on-one with a student for a few minutes each per day. Very little real learning occurs this way. Teachers who talk outside their union’s muzzle tell how it feels to stare at their class through a computer screen for seven to eight hours a day. “I can’t do it,” one teacher said, adding that because the kids are not always supervised very closely at home, they come and go as they please.

And everyone gets a passing grade, no matter whether they’ve done the work or not.

Then, of course, there’s this challenge: How do you keep a 6- or 7-year-old tied to a computer from 8 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon? The answer is, “You don’t. You can’t. They just won’t do it.” Oh, sure, they’ll play some computer game “all day.” But that’s because it’s fun. Reading a textbook or adding and subtracting fractions are not fun.

And it gets worse. Let’s say there are three (or more) kids in this household. How many laptops are there? Are there three or more? And let’s say one or both parents are working at home. That means four or five laptops. There may well be some families with five laptops in tiptop condition. There also are some with no laptops at all.

Which means that those kids with few or no laptops aren’t going to school at all.

Teachers’ unions are screaming about safety for the kids and the teachers. The first thing to say is that kids, especially those under 15, rarely get COVID-19 unless they have some underlying medical condition.

For anyone who’s been a manager of anything, the challenges of social distancing and sanitizing buildings and classrooms sound more like a management problem than some insurmountable barrier to opening. Talk about “we’ve never done it that way”? Oh, yes, we have. We’ve had schools that operated in shifts because of a shortage of classrooms. Just not recently in most places.

And finally, there’s one other massive downside to keeping schools closed. It’s what to do with the kids when their parents are called back to work. Presumably, one parent — or the only parent — has to stay home and take care of the kids. But what happens to the family income then? Are we to impoverish a huge swath of American life simply because teachers won’t teach until everything is perfect? Or until a vaccine is proved and widely available, which may never happen?

“Follow the science,” some say. Then why didn’t we follow the science several generations ago when polio was devastating children and teenagers? Polio was far more deadly or debilitating for that generation than COVID-19 is today. But not, of course, to teachers.

Some governors will keep their schools closed. For this, and other areas of our society, this suggestion: Let the system cut off the pay of all decision-makers who advocate for lockdowns, closures or quarantines. Then, the devastating effect of these measures might be driven home.

Reid K. Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He now resides at Paynter’s Mill.