Richard Cordaway, left, and Dan Raucci attend a training about social emotional learning for the fall semester on Thursday, Aug. 20 at Middletown High School. Desk shields were installed for all attendees. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

The plan for opening Connecticut schools this fall is not a plan. It is an abdication of responsibility.

There’s no 6-foot distancing in classrooms required; no 6-foot distancing on school buses required; no COVID-19 testing required; no funds for increased sanitizing of schools allocated; no added funds for on-site health care allocated.

It’s business as usual. But a pandemic is not usual.

Ann Policelli Cronin

This abdication of responsibility will put all of the people in those school buildings at tremendous risk: students, teachers, custodial staff, and administrators. It will put the families they go home to at the end of the school day at added risk. And it will put all those with whom the family members come in contact with at their workplaces at added risk. It is an abdication of responsibility not only to the children of Connecticut but to all the citizens of Connecticut.

What to do instead?

Online learning should be the preferred delivery system, except when young children would be at home without the presence of adults. Of course, this is not as good for kids as being in school as they were in the past. But the past is not the present. And the present is a global pandemic.

All students in Grades 8-12 can learn remotely via computers. All kindergarten to Grade 7 students who have adult supervision can also learn remotely on computers.

The younger students who do not have an adult at home should be accommodated in schools, where there would be resources to test the faculty and staff so that the health of the adults working in the schools is assessed on a daily basis, and the children have their temperatures taken and recorded daily. It would be a controlled environment with public health as the priority. All students and faculty would wear masks, and the 6-foot distancing would be strictly enforced so that they would have some of the safety measures that their peers at home, learning remotely, have.

The less affluent communities in Connecticut would never have the funds to put universal masking and stepped-up sanitizing in place, and they would never have the funds to hire enough teachers for classrooms to have fewer students so that social distancing between students could be maintained.

If the wealthier Connecticut school districts do find the funds to put public health measures in place, the education in the schools will look a lot like remote learning: kids sitting 6 feet apart, masked, staying in the same seat all day, facing straight ahead looking at the masked teacher who will be presenting information to them. No discussion groups, no interactive science labs, no music classes, no art classes, no gym classes, no socialization in the cafeteria or walking through the halls.

The American Association of Pediatricians’ statement that children should go back to school in order to further their social development is meaningless, because the public health requirements of a 6-foot perimeter around each student would prohibit most meaningful social interaction. In fact, prohibiting social interaction is exactly the point of the 6-foot rule. There can be much more social interaction in a Zoom discussion group or a group project than in a classroom with masked students sitting far from one another.

An in-house CDC memo surfaced recently. It stated that the surest way to insure another wave of the pandemic with its increase in illnesses and deaths would be to re-open schools this fall. Schools must remain closed so that your children and all of our citizens are protected.

The one lesson that all of our students need to learn in the coming semester is this: We love you. Because we love you, our priority is to keep you safe.

If the decision is made today that students will remain home or in designated safe schools for the fall semester, teachers can spend the next month planning how to make distance learning classes into ones that are interactive and collaborative.

We would do our best for all of Connecticut’s children by NOT reopening school buildings in the fall. Learning will still happen. Illnesses and deaths will not increase. And, along with reading, writing, and arithmetic, students will learn what social responsibility in a pandemic means. They will learn how to grow into good, kind, wise adults by watching us care for them.

Ann Policelli Cronin has been an English teacher, a central office administrator, and a teacher of teachers in Connecticut.

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