Ted Spaniak, retired teacher
Summary: This article concerns schools opening during this pandemic and lays out the rationale for distance learning as the only viable alternative.
When schools closed in the spring due to COVID-19, the infection rate in Illinois — not to mention the country — wasn’t anywhere close to where it is at the current moment. With infections on the rise in Illinois and spiking at unprecedented levels nationwide, the only logical and responsible option for the fall is distance learning.
Over the summer, many school districts developed distance learning curricula in preparation for its future necessity. Those teams who took advantage of the summer opportunities are already well-equipped with a plethora of resources for remote instruction. Distance learning, although not the ideal teaching situation, was relatively successful in the spring and, most importantly, did not literally put the lives of teachers and students at risk. To be sure, e-learning is a compromise, albeit one that eliminates the prospect of the virus being spread not only throughout the school but carried home into the community as well, overwhelming an already-overloaded healthcare system.
Some back-to-school plans involve a so-called hybrid system, which reduces the amount of students in attendance and days exposed to the virus, still allowing for partial e-learning. In some scenarios, students may be at school only two days a week, but teachers teaching multiple grade levels could potentially be at school considerably more than the students. However, being exposed to the virus two or three days a week instead of five does little to change the ultimate reality that in a hybrid scenario, teachers and students are still repeatedly confronting a deadly, unpredictable virus.
Transferring the proposed reopened schools scenario to the business world, opening things up for face-to-face instruction would be the equivalent of holding six one-hour, face-to-face meetings with 10 or more people every day of the week for five days a week. What person would willingly subject themselves to that environment during a pandemic? Why are we even considering subjecting our students and teachers to this?
As of this writing, more than 3.5 million people have been infected nationwide. In Cook County alone nearly 100,000 cases have been reported, comprising over 62% of cases statewide. There are myriad variables that students will confront as they attempt to follow idealistic distancing rules, many of which are beyond adult control, such as dealing with sports, buses, cafeterias, hallways, lockers, bathrooms, and small classrooms. Thus, exposure on a large scale is inevitable. To quote poet Robert Burns, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” How is risking death even an option being considered?
Bars and restaurants are either closed or re-closing all over the country due to confined environments that promote the spread of this novel virus. What greater way to spread the virus than to put hundreds of people in small rooms with inadequate or antiquated ventilation systems? This does not even address the touching of desks and papers for six classes a day, or sharing computers or classroom supplies. How will any of this be disinfected in between classes? Are we also to trust that all students will cooperate with the wearing of masks and maintain social distancing the entire school day? One of the reasons the virus is spiking is that young people have not cooperated with advice from scientists. Are we to expect them to suddenly start? This doesn’t even take into account the possibility of asymptomatic transmission.
According to the New York Times, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) warned that “reopening K-12 schools and universities would be the ‘highest risk’ for the spread of the deadly virus.” Conversely, CDC guidelines from May claimed that the “lowest risk setting for COVID-19 spread is virtual-only learning options.” Furthermore, as of July 15, the CDC also states that COVID infections in the “fall and winter will be worse” than this summer.
Ultimately, teachers want to teach and students want to learn, but not at the risk of their lives. Certainly, all Americans wish life would return to normal, but life right now is not normal. Pretending that it is puts our students’ and teachers’ lives in grave danger. We need compromise, and the only viable one at our disposal is remote learning.
Administrators, school board members, and other decision-makers have a choice: Either be responsible for the imminent deaths and illnesses of their staff and students that will result if schools open for in-person instruction this fall or, instead, pursue the positive repercussions that will result by promoting staff and student health and safety by utilizing the technology compromise.
Choosing this path places decision-makers in the position of being forward-thinking community leaders that are basing their decisions on scientific facts rather than on economic or political agendas.
Ted Spaniak, Homewood, Illinois
Retired high school English teacher for 20 years
Lansing Voices is our version of “Letters to the Editor.” The opinions posted here are those of the writers, and posting them does not indicate endorsement by The Lansing Journal. We welcome input from fellow residents who have thoughtful things to say about topics that are important to our community. Send your submissions to The Lansing Journal with “Voices” in the subject line.