Kueppers: Class is in session?

There are still too many variables to make reopening K-12 a viable and safe option.

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Henry Kueppers

High school is already a cesspool of insecurities and anxiety. Whether it was worrying about a new zit, having two dates to the prom or wondering if the librarian was flirting with you, high school was taxing on us all, physically and mentally. But, can you imagine reliving all of that with the backdrop of COVID-19? Last week, Gov. Tim Walz announced that some schools in Minnesota would be implementing in-person and hybrid learning curriculums. This means children from kindergarten to high school will be returning to the classroom, but they will need to be masked and socially distanced.

The Governor, and the Minnesota Department of Health in its 2020-2021 Planning Guide for Schools outline, argue that “many children and families are experiencing additional economic hardships, social isolation and other stressors.” Therefore, they use this logic to conclude that reopening in-person or hybrid learning curriculums would be the best way to alleviate these issues. Yet, as insensitive as it may sound, I don’t think reopening our schools is the right answer.

I am a huge proponent of taking care of yourself and giving time to cultivate and nurture both physical and mental wellbeing. But I know if I was back to in-person learning, I’d be freaking out every single minute about getting sick. I don’t think I would be alone in thinking this, considering the fact that several educators will be returning to the classroom without receiving a vaccine. According to a 2019 Minnesota Professional Educator and Licensing and Standards Board report, there are 133,945 active teachers in Minnesota. (Again, that’s as of 2019, so it’s subject to change). And while many educators are receiving their vaccines, according to MPR, the process for our teachers to receive the vaccine is less like a signature on the dotted line and more like “The Hunger Games,” due to the fact that teachers are, like everyone else, basically in competition to get an incredibly limited COVID-19 vaccine. If that’s not bad enough, there are teachers who are openly admitting that they will be struggling to focus more on teaching and less on their health and safety. Putting some educators through this emotional rollercoaster doesn’t seem fair to me.

But what about the students and families? As I mentioned before, thousands of families and students have fallen on economic and social hardships, and I agree that going back to some sort of normalcy would probably greatly help out a lot of people. So, to be completely fair, I don’t have a very strong argument against this point. I want struggling families to get all the help they need and I want students to be released from some of the mental burdens I’m sure virtual learning has placed on them. The only two points I would make are timing and trust. First, the timing to reinforce going back to in-person learning seems odd, considering the fact that spring break would be around the corner for many students. Let’s face it, not everyone treats and handles COVID-19 safety measures the same way. It could be risky having students return, only for them to be engaged in possible travels during spring break.

Then, there’s our trust of students. I’m just gonna say it: Some kids are real shitheads. They are! I’ve worked with children in the past, and some are just terrible little brats. If we let them go back to in-class learning, we’re honestly putting a ton of faith in them and their ability to keep their masks on, wash their hands and practice social distancing. And I’m not saying students can’t handle this … but c’mon. We all remember that one kid from elementary school who peed all over a locker just because he could. Do you think that kid will always be wearing his mask?

There’s also the fact that kids are not immune to COVID-19. While it’s confirmed that the virus may not have as drastic impacts on a child’s immune system as it does on an adult, children can still get significantly ill. And while eventually down the road (hopefully) all of our teachers will be vaccinated, the question of when children will become eligible for vaccination is anyone’s guess. As of right now, it is not deemed safe for anyone under the age of 16 to receive the vaccine and pediatric trials for a COVID-19 vaccine are still underway. So, going back to school will introduce children to higher virus exposure and possibly endanger them even more.

I think an article from Scientific American summarizes the overall situation of education in the age of COVID-19 perfectly. More or less, the article basically says, “Listen, regardless of what we choose to do, it’s not gonna be a win.” If we let students go back to school, there will be fear of COVID-19 coupled with the fact that they won’t have the same classroom experience that they remember having. Or, if we let them continue to learn from home, they continue to feel the isolation and Zoom fatigue we all have felt at some point. Also, I know that the CDC has outlined a way for in-person classes to resume and produce safe and reliable results. And hey, I believe the science, and I know these folks know a lot more about the virus and health than I do. But, at the end of the day, returning to in-person classes just rubs me the wrong way.