One of the most difficult issues of the pandemic is when and how schools should reopen. Parents and teachers are eager for them to reopen, but only if the schools are safe and protected from the disease that is ravaging so much of the nation. Parents want their children back in school. They are tired of pretending to be teachers, organizing their children’s time every day. Teachers are eager to resume in-person instruction, but not at risk of their lives. Even students are eager to return to school, to see their friends, to engage in class discussions, to participate in school activities.
School has resumed in other nations like Denmark, Finland, and South Korea. Those countries that have reopened their schools have added daily temperature checks, reduced class sizes, and provided whatever personnel and equipment was needed to protect the health of students and staff.
US states could follow suit, but for school to resume safely here, two necessities must be in place. First, the pandemic must be under control. Infection rates must be low and dropping. Nations that have successfully opened their schools tamed the coronavirus first. Second, the schools must be able to provide safe conditions, meaning small class sizes, extra nurses, disinfected and active ventilation systems, additional cleaning staff, and personal protective equipment for children and adults. Since every state’s tax revenues have been diminished by the economic effects of the pandemic, school budgets are being slashed at the very moment when they need more resources.
In the United States, the pandemic is surging in the South and in parts of the West. In the absence of federal leadership, each state has been free to write its own rules for behavior, and governors in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and several other states have followed the lead of President Trump by refusing to mandate the obvious requirements for public health and safety, such as wearing a mask and maintaining a safe distance from others to avoid the spread of the disease. Even states that have managed to contain the virus, like New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, remain vulnerable to new outbreaks because of tourism and travel.
Amid this uncertainty and anxiety, President Trump has decided that the reopening of schools is essential to his prospects for reelection. He wants to bring back the strong economy for which he claims credit, but which collapsed as the pandemic spread. He wants stores to open, factories to resume production, and commerce to pick up again. He wants this economic revival to occur without following the guidelines laid out by his own administration’s scientists and medical experts. Until recent weeks, Trump has refused to wear a mask in public and has tried to maintain the pretense that all is well and, as he puts it, the virus will magically “disappear” one day. His supporters have followed his example and have demonstrated at state capitols in opposition to mask-wearing mandates and any other restrictions on their normal activity.