Wednesday, November 11, 2020

New Deal for Education needed if schools are to reopen safely

Chicago daycares and private schools report 495 Covid cases, but numbers don’t tell the whole story: “From April 1 through mid-October, the city has tracked 267 cases in child care centers, 207 in private and charter schools that offer some in-person instruction, and 21 at in-person park district camps. Most of those cases, though, involved adults — 90 cases in daycares, 145 cases in schools, and five at camps involved students,” reports
Chalkbeat Chicago’s Mila Koumpilova.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Tuesday reported 79 new deaths and 12,623 new confirmed and probable cases of the coronavirus disease. That’s a total of 10,289 deaths and 511,183 cases in Illinois. The preliminary seven-day statewide positivity for cases as a percent of total test from Nov. 3 through 9 is 12.0 percent. Chicago’s positivity rate is at 13 percent.

Despite these numbers, it looks like the Chicago School Board is moving ahead with its plan for hybrid-opening. While Mayor Lightfoot and city health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady haven't set a return date, planning for in-person schooling is clearly underway.

I'm all in favor of planning now for an eventual opening of schools, but strongly opposed to school openings at a time like this, with new Covid cases at record levels. The risks are just too great.

Schools here and around the country, public and private, should open gradually only when outside conditions improve (ie. a vaccine) and only then when their facilities are deemed safe with policies in place to ensure student, teacher, and staff safety. That is certainly not the case now.

Planning for a reopening also needs to transcend the immediate logistical problems and include a total and radical revisioning of equitable and democratic schooling, school and curriculum design on a human scale, and use of technology in the post-pandemic era. 

Reopening can't be done unilaterally. There needs to be a collaborative effort between the school board, communities, and the teachers union. 

I'm still looking for leadership to step forward on that one, given the deep and wide political divisions among city Democrats. But I'm keeping hope alive. 

Hopefully, the Biden administration will make public ed a top priority and move immediately to provide the massive resources needed for all this. That should be our number-one demand on the new ed secretary, no matter who it is. Without those resources -- well over $1 trillion for starters -- no real progress is possible.

A LEGIT CASE FOR REOPENING NOW...I also realize that those favoring reopening now or soon have a legit case. I know, for example, that the Board and the mayor are being pressured by lots of parents who say they can no longer afford to stay home with their children during the day, who risk losing their jobs and possibly their health insurance, or who lack the resources and capacity for viable homeschooling.

For some, keeping kids at home for an extended period may expose them to even greater health and security risks than sending them to school. For others, schools provide a sense of community and mutual support that has been missing during the pandemic.

Some kind of accommodation has to be made available to them. More importantly, Congress needs to immediately pass the stimulus bill to offer relief to families, schools, and small businesses. 

ETHS students and coach try and deal with the shooting death of Ryan Bost while school remains closed.

The case for reopening was powerfully and emotionally made yesterday by Mike Ellis, the basketball coach at Evanston Township High School following the fatal shooting of one of his former players, Ryan Bost.
“It’s challenging right now to try and make sure all the kids are ok,” Ellis said. “If we had in-school learning we’d be meeting and just able to be with one another and talk. We are going to do a Zoom meeting to try to bring everybody together but a Zoom meeting doesn’t have the same influence it would in person.”

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