Thursday, May 28, 2020

Back to School?

As this year's school year closes under the cloud of Covid-19 we will soon see much written about what the 2020/2021 school year will look like.

An advisory group to the Mayor of Washington, D.C.  recommended that schools in that city not fully reopen until a vaccine or cure is available.

Left unsaid is how long are we supposed to wait for a vaccine of a cure?

Six months? 1 year? 2 years? 6 years? Forever?

Considering all of the talk of racial and social injustice these days in ultra-liberal cities like Washington, D.C. (Donald Trump got just 4% of the vote in the city in 2016), how is keeping the schools closed going to help that situation? 64% of the students in public schools in the city are non-White.

Considering how important the decision is on reopening the schools you would think that there would be more consideration of exactly how many children have been diagnosed with Covid-19 thus far.

The latest CDC data shows that just 3.5% of all confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been in those 17 years of age and younger.

As of May 16, the CDC reported that there had not been 100 deaths from Covid-19 in a population of 103 million Americans among those age 24 and under. Just 12 of these were under the age of 15!

Let's put these numbers in context. 

For children ages 5-14, based on the numbers thus far, the odds of dying of Covid-19 are 1 in 5,885,546.

The odds of someone being stuck by lightning in a single year---1 in 700,000.

The odds of someone dying in a shark attack in their lifetime---1 in 3,700,000.

I know some will look at the numbers above and argue that the low number of cases and deaths with children is because we closed the schools. If not, we would have seen tens of thousands of cases.

We will never know for sure. However, we can look at Sweden which did not close their schools for reference.

What is their case experience among school age children?

It is actually lower than the United States.

Only 1.7% of cases in Sweden have been identified in those 19 years and younger.

Covid-19 Cases in Sweden by Age as May 26, 2020

Deaths in Sweden by age group. How many deaths have they had of those under age 30?


It is also important to understand that those in ages 0-17 typically account for about one-third of all cases of seasonal flu each year. Flu outbreaks do occasionally cause schools to close for short periods of time. However, a 3.5% infection rate with Covid-19 has already caused 3 months of school closures in most of the country.

The logic of keeping the schools closed in the Fall is escaping me based on the data above.

Nevertheless, you should expect that if schools do open that it will look like nothing that you have seen before.

Here are the major CDC recommendations for schools to reopen in the Fall:

Students should be six feet apart in classrooms

All students and staff should wear masks

No sharing of materials or supplies

Keep students with same group and same staff for as much of the day as possible

Close playgrounds and cafeteria. If not possible, stagger usage and disinfect in between

Stagger drop-off and pick-up times so students do not congregate in groups

No field trips, assemblies, performances or student meetings

School busses should have no more than one student per seat and every other seat should be empty

Anyone reading these recommendations should realize that the only feasible way to consider reopening schools under these guidelines would be to have split sessions in school supplemented by online learning. 

It is the only way to meet these guidelines considering both logistics and economics. The reality is that there is only so much classroom space, teachers and school busses to work with.

Parents should be preparing right now that their children will only be in school two or three days per week in the Fall if these guidelines are followed.

I heard yesterday that the City of Cincinnati Public Schools is considering an alternative plan that would have elementary students in school five days per week (recognizing the day care issues for younger children) while having all junior high and high school student stay at home with online learning. This would allow the school district to spread students out into the junior high and high school buildings for social distancing.

School budgets will be squeezed even if everything returns to normal quickly. Tax collections are a disaster because of the economic lockdown. The answer appears to be to provide only half of what one would expect (and what we are paying in taxes) for our schools.

Governor Newsom of California is already suggesting 10-20% cuts in school aid for next year.

Governor Dewine of Ohio stated on Meet the Press this past weekend that he is looking to the federal government for help in funding schools in the state. 

I predict we will hear a lot about this as the summer goes on. There will be a lot of political pressure put on the federal government to provide money and it will always be centered around schools, police, fire  and safety services. Never mind that education, public safety and services make up less than 20% of the budget of a state like Ohio.

I predict we will see particular pressure on private schools this year if the guidelines above have to be followed for re-opening in the Fall. Are parents going to be willing to pay full tuition for a half-way solution? Public school parents have no option. The taxes are going to be there and they have no choice. In fact, their taxes will almost certainly be going up soon. 

I predict we will see more interest in home schooling as an alternative. A recent survey of parents found that 40% of families say they are now more likely to consider home schooling or virtual school alternatives after the lockdown ends. 

Interestingly, political party affiliation made little difference in those who stated they were more likely to consider home schooling----46% of Democrats and 42% of Republicans.

Likewise, Blacks (50%), Hispanics (38%) and Asians (54%) were more favorably disposed to home schooling than Whites (36%).

Those survey results are supported by another poll by USA Today/IPSOS that found, by a 59%-36% margin, parents are more likely to pursue at-home options even if schools reopen in the Fall. Again, those with lower household incomes are more interested than those with higher incomes, and racial minorities are more interested than whites.

That poll also found that about one in five teachers say they are unlikely to return to school in the Fall because of frustration with the new reality and the lack of training in doing their jobs in an online environment far removed from their students.

I predict we will also see more interest in online educational services like Curriki that provide curricula and educational resources in support of K-12 education for teachers, students and parents. Curriki is an independent 501(c)(3) organization working toward eliminating the education divide by providing free K-12 curricula and collaboration tools through an open-source platform.

Curriki's digital library currently includes 81,000 free teaching and learning resources. I expect that the online school experience for most students relying on their own school's resources is haphazard at best. I have to imagine most of it is not much more than a rudimentary Zoom lecture session that allows for little student interaction.  

Utilizing the resources that are available at a site like Curriki can be a game changer for students and their parents to take real ownership of their education. Curriki also has the potential to be a universal platform that allows creative, compelling and interactive learning specifically designed for a virtual  experience that is scaleable. How many schools have the ability to build a real online presence on their own? Curriki is well positioned at the right place and at the right time to serve this need. Keep your eye on Curriki and others who can provide better virtual learning alternatives.

My final prediction is that if we are not seeing evidence of significant community spread of the virus when school is scheduled to open, that local school administrators and school boards will be put under tremendous political pressure by local community residents to return to normal operation.

This may lead to conflicts and confrontations between state and local officials that could make some of the recent protests in blue states that have refused to open look tame. My experience is that parents get a little upset when they believe their children have been treated unfairly or are being used.

People are more than willing to take common sense measures when it is clear it is necessary to do so. We have seen that for extended periods over the last couple of months.

However, with every passing day more and more people are starting to wonder whether they have been had as more facts like those I have cited above become better understood.

Let's see what happens over the summer. 

However, I think schools are going to have a hard time in arguing that they should not open under fairly normal circumstances in the Fall in most parts of the country if we are seeing conditions similar to what we are experiencing now with Covid-19.

I just don't see parents standing for it.

Then again, if parents do not put up much resistance, schools may be in even bigger trouble than they are today. 

Parents may have decided they have found a better way to educate their children without the noise, nuisance and noxious elements that can accompany the school experience for their kids.


  1. CHCA in your hometown is opening in August and will meet guidlines. We will have a very close to normal year. We have had to spend some money and get creative but we are going to open for school. I feel for schools with large classroom sizes and full buildings that cannot open. We are going to make it work. I hope others can as need to be in school. TRB

    1. Yes, kids need to be in school. Glad to hear that CHCA is going to reopen close to "normal". My fear is that you are going to be the exception rather than the rule. I hope I am wrong.

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