Re-Opening Our Schools in the Time of COVID-19

Re-Opening Our Schools

Since we closed our schools back in March 2020, we have had an ongoing debate as to when and how to re-open our schools. It has been a debate involving economics, health and politics, about the needs of individuals, families, political and ideological needs as well as those of society as a whole.

What to do; what to do?

My proposal is serious, although a bit tongue-in-cheek, as I recognize the impossibility of its being implemented, even on a small scale.

I taught both shop and academic classes in SoCal public junior high/middle schools for some forty years, retiring in 2012. Yes, I do have some idea of classroom conditions in a system which places thirty-five to forty teenagers in a room with a teacher for about an hour per class five or six times a day.

Class Size

My History and English classes usually held thirty-six to forty students. Let’s take a class of thirty-six students and “social distance” them. We’ll place them along one wall and the back of the room, imagining that there need be no room between the student and the wall. Assuming six rows with six students in each, we need a class 30 feet by 30 feet; add six feet in the front and one side for teacher and student movement our class needs to be 36 feet by 36 feet = 1,296 square feet/a small 3-bedroom house.

If you believe this is doable, I suggest you go to your child’s school and measure your child’s classroom(s). If your child’s classes have more or fewer students, mark the floor with blocks or legos or tape, lay out student positions, six feet apart and then allow room for the teacher, any aides and movement into, out of, and within the room. See what you come up with.

Air and Water

Does your child’s classroom have good ventilation: door(s), windows that open for cross ventilation or any ventilation at all? How about the heating/air-conditioning system, is it adequate?

Does the classroom have a sink for washing hands? If not, how about the toilet facilities? Check them out. Are they adequate and clean? Would you use them? If not, your child shouldn’t have to either.

Other

There are many other things I could touch on here: movement between classes, lunch, PE, choir and band, arrival and departure, recess/nutrition, custodial services, finances (in a contracting economy), but I’ll leave those for later. After all, you have an imagination — use it.

Proposal

President Trump and Secretary of Education DeVos and other public figures are pushing for schools to re-open, regardless of the current pandemic.

They are correct in that we need to educate our children. We also need to care for (babysit them) so that their parents can go back to work. If you do not believe that childcare is a function of our educational system, you need to get real and open your eyes; perhaps, you can listen to those parents who cannot go to work because they have young children to tend.

OK, to the nitty-gritty. Our physical facilities (schools) are inadequate to meet the needs for the social distancing of our students and staff. So, let’s forget about social distancing — just send them back to school.

Sanitary facilities are inadequate, so, forget about them (after all, we’ve been doing so for decades) and give our kids their own bottles of sanitizer and hand wipes.

To make sure that things are okay, let’s have our political leaders send their children to our local public schools. After all, if it’s safe for our kids, it’s safe for theirs.

And

And, let’s make sure that those among us who refuse to wear masks send their children to school without masks and have them enrolled in classes with teachers who share their beliefs. Maybe, they can get jobs as substitute teachers for those teachers who are in high-risk categories or who simply want to be safe?

The rest of us can keep our kids at home and have them attend online classes until this emergency is over.

Child care? Why worry? How about we re-write parental responsibility laws so that parents can leave their underage children at home alone. That way the parents can go to work and get our economy working again. Maybe, we should re-write our child labor laws so kids could go to work rather than go to school.

How old does one have to be to flip burgers or operate cash registers with pictures for buttons? Place kids in jobs for unskilled labor that usually go to immigrants because we don’t want to go to fill low wage, high labor jobs. Childcare will be taken care of and we won’t have to worry about having those kids in school and fewer immigrants. Win-Win-Win.

Conclusion

Like I said, a bit tongue-in-cheek, but we really need to think and plan this re-opening before we send our children and teachers back to school. They are our future (as well as our present).

 

COVID-19 and us — 6.12.20

A Few, Not So Random, Thoughts on COVID-19, the Police and School

Yes, I’m going to keep wearing my mask while I’m in public and around people. If I get seriously ill, my wife is in trouble because her health issues mandate 24-hour care. If she gets gets COVID-19, she probably won’t survive.

This summer, we stay home and wear a mask in public. And, if you don’t wear one, STAY AWAY!

The Police

I believe that the police, or someone who performs their functions, are a necessary evil.

Given the above, de-funding the police will not accomplish anything positive. Are reforms necessary? Yes, most certainly.

What Reforms?

I’d like to propose two reforms.

First, there is a need to better screen those we recruit and train to be members of our police departments. We need to make sure that those who become policemen, and policewomen, are primarily, if not exclusively, interested in helping people. Those who, for whatever reasons, need to bully people must be weeded out. We must screen out those who are inclined to throw around their authority and hide behind its badge and who lie to cover up their mistakes.

Think lying is not a problem facing our police departments? Look first at the videos currently circulating on the internet, and then think of how many times your friends complained about a run-in with the police in which they claimed the police lied about what they did. (I would imagine most of us know someone who was given a traffic ticket they didn’t deserve because the traffic cop lied. Maybe, it’s happened to you. Did the cop actually lie? If the cop lied about something small like a u-turn, missed stop sign, unsafe lane change, what would stop him/her from lying about an assault or firing a weapon?)

We need honest police who believe that violence is a last resort, not a first response.

Two

Second, we must de-militarize our police departments. Police departments are not armies and police are not soldiers. The primary purpose of the police is to protect a community and its people. The primary purpose of an army is to, using extreme violence, destroy an opposing army.

When a police department becomes an army, the people it is supposed to protect become the enemy. If you doubt this, look at any recent, or not so recent, video of police behavior at rallies in which people are exercising their rights to assemble and protest. Yes, like the right to bear arms, the right to protest is a right protected by the U.S. Constitution.

And, maybe, we should give the police a chance to become members of the community they are hired to protect. How about we subsidize their purchase of housing in the cities they work. Beginning officers aren’t going to be able to afford to live in high priced cities like San Francisco or Newport Beach. If they lived among those they policed, might they better identify with those they came into contact with? And, again maybe, have them park their cars and walk around the neighborhoods they patrol. Once or twice (or, maybe, more often) a year knock on people’s doors, introduce themselves and ask about the community. Make the police us and not them.

School

Ghads, the more I think about making schools ready for the 2020-2021 school year, the more I want to laugh or cry.

Social distancing? Take a class of forty students and set it up for social distancing and you have a class of fewer than twenty. If you give teachers the same 240 students, they must now teach twelve classes. (No, this is not a fantasy. During most of my forty year career, my classes had 35-40 students and I taught six classes each day.)

More classes? Or, shorter classes but teachers are still responsible for students learning the same material? Students coming to school every other day? On-line school on the other days?

Do you know any teachers who are looking forward to teaching under COVID-19 conditions next year? How about, do you know any teachers who have just retired and are breathing a sigh of extreme relief?

How about, do you know any teachers who are considering early retirement because they, belatedly, see what is coming?

Remember, the economy tanked and tax receipts will be down, school budgets will be down; teachers will get fewer supplies and salaries and benefits may, will, be re-negotiated.

More work, lower salary — they all have college degrees; do you think many of them may look for work in some other profession?

Can you imagine being a newbie, first-year teacher, just beginning his or her career under these conditions? I can and still cannot decide whether to laugh or cry.

California State Department of Education

Cal-Ed recently published a guide on how to open schools in the Age of COVID-19. What’s in it? A lot of educational and bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. Don’t believe me? Read it yourself.

In essence it says local districts are responsible for everything, reasonably practical or not, with no realistic how-tos.

Typical response like Donald John: I take no responsibility; handle it at the local level. I imagine it will devolve to individual schools and teachers, like most things educational do. They have no real authority but have all of the responsibility and will take all of the blame when (not if, in my humble opinion) things don’t work out.

My take: by October everyone gives up and things go back to the way they were last October (pre-COVID-19), come heck, high water, illness and death.

COVID-19 and us — 5.17.20

COVID-19

Well, here we are in the middle of May and the novel coronavirus is still with us. Tens of thousands are getting it for the first time and some are getting it for the second (or third?) time. Thousands are dying of it every single day.

Numbers

In fact, more than a thousand are dying of coronavirus in the United States every day. As I am writing this, Johns Hopkins University says there have been 89,399 deaths in this country. At the current rate we’ll be well over 100,000 deaths before June.

As America begins to re-open without a vaccine for the coronavirus the number of cases will probably rise. People who have been cooped up in their homes and apartments and not exposed to the virus will come into contact with others who have the virus (but not the symptoms). The virus will spread. The more people come into contact with others, the faster the spread.

One sees the videos of people crowded into restaurants and bars, without facemasks, and wonders who among them have the virus. There’s no “V” on the foreheads of those infected. You just can’t tell — it’s a crapshoot. Take your chances; get infected and take it back to your wife and kids (significant other, roommate, parents, etc.).

Odds

They think it won’t (can’t) happen to them. Hey, less than one-half of one percent of the people in the US have COVID-19. Odds are they won’t get it.

Well, that’s not quite the case. Only 1.5 million people have been hospitalized or tested positive for the virus. With the limited testing we have there’s no telling how many people actually have the virus and are capable of spreading it to infect others.

But, let us go ahead and use the 1.5 million figure. That’s about one of every two hundred people in this country. How many people do you come in contact with each day you go and eat in a restaurant, drink in a bar or sit in a salon, hairdresser or barbershop? Five, ten, fifteen, more?

How about we say ten? After twenty days, you’ve come in contact with two hundred people. What are the odds now?

You’re a barber and cut the hair of twenty people a day, none of whom wear masks; in ten days you’ve come in close contact with two hundred people. Of course, there are two other barbers in the shop and they also cut people’s hair. How many people, in total, are you in close contact with in our large and roomy barbershops.

Nail salons. My wife typically spends an hour to an hour and a half getting her nails, fingers and toes, done. The same at her hair stylist. Talk about close contact.

How many people a day does a bartender, supermarket checker, factory worker, coffee shop/sandwich shop employee come into contact with?

Schools

Perhaps, we should consider schools — elementary and secondary.

During my teaching career, my classes averaged thirty-five to forty students each. Not bad huh? Well, I taught six classes each day and it’s not much different today in middle/junior and senior high school.

You want schools to re-open? Deal with those numbers.

Schools — Thinking about next year

Schools — During my last decade of teaching, one of my classrooms was in a “temporary” structure. It was the kind of pre-fab you see dotting campuses all across SoCal.

I was teaching 7th grade History in that room. In terms of the number of students that meant forty desks with class sizes ranging from thirty-six to forty-two. Yes, forty-two with a couple of kids sitting in chairs until class schedule adjustments could be made to get the number back down to forty.

There wasn’t much room to move around, less than a desk’s width between rows, the last desks in the rows hard against the back wall. The room also included a teacher’s desk and room to enter (via the one door) and a half dozen free feet in the front of the class to get from the entry to the rows of desks and room for the teacher to move across the room and use the whiteboard.

COVID-19 spacing

Now, let’s assume that we take out the teacher’s desk and add eight desks to the room. That makes forty-eight student desks and very little room in which to move around. If we take out half of the desks, we will get about four and a half feet between students.

Since I cannot say that I remember the exact dimensions of that classroom, let us say that twenty-four desks, evenly spaced, actually gives us six feet between students and adequate room for the teacher to conduct ordinary instruction and other class business. We can now use that classroom, and others of similar size throughout the state, for teaching in a “social-distanced” educational environment. (My wife’s classroom in Santa Ana had a similar square footage with a like number of students.)

What does this mean?

If teachers have similar student loads to their pre-COVID-19 classes (total number of students for whom they are responsible), a typical middle/junior/senior high teacher (five or six classes, 200-240 students) will now have to teach eight to ten classes.

  • Ten classes per day?
  • Shorter classes and/or longer days?
  • Staggered, alternate day, schedules?
  • Hiring more teachers?
  • Building more classrooms?

How about K-6 classes where teachers have the same students all day long? They have similar size problems. When you space the students out, you decrease the number of students per teacher and class.

Do you now cut the classroom hours and have the teachers teach one group in the morning and another in the afternoon? You both increase the number of hours the teacher teaches and decrease the number of instructional hours for the students. Or, perhaps you introduce staggered/alternate day schedules, which also cuts the number of instructional hours for the students.

Of course, you could build more classrooms and hire more teachers.

This means more money: construction, salaries, health benefits.

No, I haven’t forgotten the hit we’ve taken to our economy with the shutdown and loss of employment — this means decreased tax revenues and school district budgets.

Re-opening

Donald John wants schools to re-open next month; Gavin thinks maybe July/August. Seriously? When are we going to have public discussions about the mechanics and financing of it all? Or are we just going to muddle through, schedule things as we did last year and see what happens?

If this doesn’t give you enough concerns, walk over to your child’s school and imagine it in a social-distanced world (at least, for next year).

Oh, yeah, almost forgot, we’ll also have to increase hours for classified employees in order to keep deep cleaning the schools — or do you think current standards are good enough?

And, how about pre-school?

Not scared yet? Think IEPs.

COVID-19 and us — 4.06.20

COVID-19 now seems to be the current determinant in our lives. It keeps us at home and away from our friends and jobs. When we are out amongst them, it forces us to keep our distance from each other. There are lines at grocery stores and temperature checks at medical centers.

One becomes disgusted, or more so than before, at politicians and office holders who offer nothing but self-serving verbiage. Ghads, the current POTUS makes even W seem to have been almost competent. James Buchanan must be smiling that he is no longer considered, by me at least, to be our worst president.

Home and Doctors

Di and I have stayed at home most of the time. We haven’t been taking many drives to calm her nerves and have been to the doctor’s only once in the last two weeks.

On the 31st we saw her rheumatologist for her twice yearly Prolia shot. Following the injection we went upstairs to the lab and had blood drawn (a ten minute wait and two vials). A day or two later the doctor called and said the results were good and she would see Di again in six months.

All the rest of our medical/dental appointments have been moved to May or June for re-scheduling, as have Di’s hair (I cut my own hair.) and nail appointments.

Most of the food I usually purchase is again in stock at most markets, although paper products are in short supply (and missing altogether at Target).

The pharmacies are open and have our meds.

Shopping

I went shopping yesterday afternoon. First to Trader Joe’s and there was a line fifteen or twenty people deep — all of us six feet apart standing behind taped lines on the walkway. Had to take my re-usable bags back to the car as they weren’t allowed in the store — TJ’s paper bags without charge. Bought a hundred dollars worth of goods (most I’ve spent there without buying alcohol) so I won’t have to return for a week instead of my usual two or three visits for fresh stuph each week. They even had kleenex and toilet paper — in limited quantities.

All employees were wearing face masks and gloves.

I then drove to Von’s and picked up some meds for Di and a couple of loaves of the bread she likes. Oh, yeah, the Starbucks inside was open and I got her a white hot chocolate with whipped cream, her fave. One barista had on a facemask and the other did not. Some Von’s employees had masks, others not, go figure. And, they allowed re-usable bags.

Also

Last Tuesday our cleaners came as usual. The gardener came on Thursday and the home care service called yesterday to say that Di’s caregiver would be here, as usual, on Wednesday.

It began raining last night/early this morning and is supposed to continue off and on until Thursday — the lawn, trees, flowers and Di and I appreciate it.

Di’s family is getting together once or twice a week on Zoom. Noon here for Di and David and eight in the evening for Tricia and Helen in England.

Mist and Smoke are in Di’s room sleeping curled up together on a window chair and Di is watching TV in her new recliner. I’ll fix her a fortified milkshake for dinner tonight. For myself, lima beans and a largish baked potato.

One more thing to do before dinner. Update the medical sheets I print out periodically with our medicines and doctors names and phone numbers. Di’s is up to date in the computer but I need to do mine. I have to include a few notes about her condition so. If I get unexpectedly taken to Emergency people will know about Di and be able to have her, and the cats, taken care of. Remember folks, the only precautions and preparations you’ll ever regret are those you didn’t take and should have.

Stay healthy.