Opinion | The Risks of Opening Schools, and Closing Them
To the Editor:
Re “For Once, the President Was Right,” by Nicholas Kristof (column, Nov. 19):
President Trump did not get this “right” by demanding that the schools stay open, because he’s failed miserably in ensuring that the schools open safely. And he’s fostered divisiveness around schools opening safely by lying, dismissing the dangers of the virus and not listening to doctors.
If he had been “right,” in March and April he would have provided for robust testing, screening and contact tracing so that all schools could have opened in August and September. If Mr. Trump had been “right,” he would have promoted masks, social distancing and then strict isolation and quarantine for anyone who is positive.
No, Mr. Kristof, Mr. Trump got none of it “right.” Your article correctly enumerates the harms of schools closing, but, as you point out in your book “Tightrope,” poverty, homelessness, addiction, education inequalities and a horrible health care system for a significant chunk of the population are all problems that were here before the pandemic. All problems that the pandemic has made exponentially worse.
Please don’t blame the Democrats. I don’t think they’ve gotten it wrong. And Mr. Trump has done nothing right.
The writer is a retired urologist.
To the Editor:
I am writing from my kitchen/classroom in Philadelphia. I am an English as a Second Language teacher at a public elementary school. Like many of the neighborhood schools in the city, we have a low-income population, mostly African-American.
I have never worked so hard at teaching. It is not comfortable to be attached to a computer from sunrise until 5 p.m. daily. I see my students on camera most of the day. I see in their homes, I hear their families, I witness their exhaustion, frustration and absence. I miss their hugs and good cheer with all my heart. Still, we cannot possibly go back to our building.
Like most of the schools in our city, our building is in poor condition. The air quality testing and airflow numbers make it unsafe. We are constantly witnessing budget cuts when we are already terribly underfunded.
Three blocks away is a private school. Private schools have the money and parent support to safely open their schools. The disparity between city public schools and private or suburban schools is shameful. Schools remain segregated not only by race, but also by income.
I am 67. My classroom is a storage closet with no windows or ventilation. As much as I love and miss my students, none of us want to be exposed to this deadly virus. I will be happy to return when there is a vaccine.
I usually read Mr. Kristof’s opinion as worthy and informed. Not this time.
To the Editor:
Nicholas Kristof makes some excellent points about allowing schools to remain open. There is no doubt that the negative short- and long-term effects of remote learning on the children are real and troubling. And the burden on parents who have children at home is also very real.
And it may also be true that we have not seen school infections as a major threat to the rest of the population. Yet.
It is the “yet” that has me worried. Right now the number of cases and deaths from Covid-19 is rapidly climbing. How many of those children will spread the virus to their parents or grandparents? It is true that we don’t really know how coronavirus positivity in schoolchildren will affect the rest of the population. But waiting to see how that will play out is a very dangerous gamble.
In the face of rising cases and deaths, I don’t think that there is any other choice than to bite the bullet and close schools. We only have one kick at this can, and we cannot afford to get it wrong. We are resourceful and hopefully, after the pandemic, will be able to address many of the consequences of missing school that Mr. Kristof has elucidated.
Vaccines will soon be available, and it seems very likely that by next fall all children will be able to return to school.
The writer is chief of the Division of Rheumatology at Jewish General Hospital.
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