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To School and Home Again: Learning in a World of Covid

Local school districts throughout the south are determined to pull kids back into schools this fall amid a national pandemic, and some parents and teachers are understandably nervous.

They have good reason to be anxious. Schools that tentatively pushed their doors open and welcomed students back in late July were already getting hit with Covid exposures and quarantine orders. A school system in Corinth, Mississippi, ended its first week with a total of six students and one staff member across the district’s elementary, middle and high schools testing positive for Covid-19 since schools cranked up on July 27. These six cases ultimately ended with more than 100 students being sent home to quarantine with their parents.

The "Atlanta Journal Constitution" also reported multiple cases of Covid exposure as schools opened their doors in the state of Georgia. Georgia’s Cherokee County School District had to close a second-grade classroom at Sixes Elementary School after a student there tested positive for the virus. The teacher and 20 students had to enter quarantine for two weeks.

Even a North Carolina school that Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos touted as an example on how to open amid a pandemic reported ordering Fourth Grade kids to quarantine for 14 days after a student there after tested positive for the disease.

Many school policies, are woefully insufficient, with some districts deciding that schools will only “employ social distancing as it is feasible and practical,” which parents say gives far too much wiggle-room for carelessness. That same school above freely admits that “wearing a face mask is a personal choice” and not mandatory, which all but begs infected students to cough and sneeze upon fellow students and teachers with impunity.

Parents are understandably nervous at the prospect of sending kids into a mismanaged corral of infection, but some are reporting that the district is giving them little choice but to send their kids off to exposure.

LaShanda Hambrick told reporters that she and her sister tried to sign their kids up for at-home and on-line learning, but that all available slots were taken as parents jumped at the option to protect their families. The school system informed Hambrick and others who had come too late that they would be left on a waiting list, but until then, their children had no choice but to appear in class.

“They’re telling me, as we’re on the waiting list, we’re highly encouraged to come to school,” Hambrick told WXIA-TV in Atlanta. “they told me that if my daughter wasn’t there today, she would be withdrawn.”

The Mississippi Association of Educators released the results of an online poll suggesting that many impoverished districts in the state of Mississippi were failing to meet proper guidelines and install workable fail-safes to discourage the spread of highly-contagious disease. Only eight percent of respondents—of whom less than half were unionized teachers—reported having received some sort of training during the summer to address the effects of the covid-19 pandemic on students. Only 53 percent of respondents claimed to have been contacted by district leaders regarding the district’s plan to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year.

Educators flooded MAE’s website with criticism at the prospect of opening this fall, as a pandemic rages across the nation.

“Administrators need to be consulting health care professionals. Administrators do not have knowledge in regard to health issues,” one anonymous source told MAE. “Putting alcohol-free sanitizers up all over schools does not help. Alcohol-based sanitizers are recommended by CDC. What a waste of money!!!”

One source out of Desoto County complained that “It is impossible time-wise and money-wise to get the vast majority of safety measures in place considering that in DeSoto County students’ first day is August 6th. I beg those who are in decision-making positions to please take more time. Death is final and, in this case, even preventable…”

A third educator preached heavily against the idea of bringing students back before the onset of a Covid-19 vaccine, especially in light of the hotly-contagious nature of the virus.

“I’ve had the virus myself while being pregnant and it was the worst thing I have been through,” the anonymous source states. “We need to stop the spread! If one teacher gets it, they have exposed almost 100 students, plus whoever they came in contact with. Also, with having maternity leave, I will have to use all of my days for that. If I were to get the virus again and have to be out for 14 more days, how would I feed my 3 kids that month? MDE needs to consider everything.”

Voices appear to be calling for continued online training, even though online training is netting questionable results. The Lighthouse interviewed several teachers on the effectiveness on the online training programs that most schools were resorting to in the months prior to schools closing for summer this year. Dr. Leeson Taylor, president of the Mississippi Alliance of Black School Educators told the Lighthouse to “think of (them) like these old patchwork quilts that my grandmother used to make.”

The color of your particular patch apparently gets decided by how wealthy your school district is. Many of the more affluent districts got to send students home with electronic devices and software to convey lesson plans. Others, without the cash to pay for laptops and tablets, and with students too poor to afford a fast internet connection, sent students home with worksheets.

Many online course are actually no more than USA Test Prep submissions, which were designed to be a supplement, not a whole lesson. The MAE poll noted that teachers were clearly picking up on the spotty effectiveness of online and remote learning earlier this year: a whopping 95 percent of poll respondents said state standardized testing (which grades schools on teaching success and students’ lesson retention) should be halted entirely during the 2020-2021 school year. That’s how well the kids are learning in a world of Covid.

On the other hand, nobody wants to send their children off to fetch a potentially-deadly disease and bring it back home to the family. This goes double for African-American families, according to the Hechinger Report. Reporters there revealed how one of Mississippi’s most diverse district in the town of Oxford offered parents a choice of either in-person or remote learning. Parents appeared to make their decisions along distinct racial lines, with about 52 percent of students who opted to remote learn being Black, even though Black children comprise only about a third of the district’s student body.


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