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BARTH KECK

As the questions about the planned reopening of Connecticut schools pile up, the answers remain elusive. What to do?

The healthy thing, the responsible thing, the logical thing is to keep children as safe as possible by either reducing the number of kids in school by half every day (the “hybrid model”) or teaching them all remotely.

There. I said it: The current push for a regular school schedule is simply not the wise option right now.

I realize that might not be popular among politicians yearning for the economy to rebound, or parents struggling to balance work and daycare, or conspiracy theorists claiming the entire COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax created by Democrats and the media to spurn Donald Trump’s re-election hopes.

But going back to school full-time is just not safe.

Of course we want an optimal education for our kids, we want to start working again, and we want as much normalcy as possible. That’s the reasoning behind the state’s goal “to have all students back to school every day,” as Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona explained in June.

But take note: The plan has always had alternatives.

“We’re going to hear from the superintendents,” said Gov. Ned Lamont last week. “We really think it’s so key if we can get those kids back to school, but only if we’re going back to school safely.”

Cardona added that a decision about the exact nature of the reopening—full day, hybrid schedule, or remote learning—will be made “around early August,” depending on transmission rates and new information about the virus.

Several school districts across the state, including Hamden, have already expressed their preference for a hybrid schedule.

I say make the decision now: For the first three months, schools will either go hybrid or remain closed—both of which require distance learning—after which time the answers surrounding coronavirus will be more abundant and a vaccine closer to reality. I wholeheartedly acknowledge the shortcomings of distance learning, but that doesn’t mean schools can’t improve that system. Meantime, safety should be paramount in any decision regarding the state’s half-million schoolchildren—to say nothing of their families and school staff who work with them.

Consider:

• A recent study of 65,000 people in South Korea found that “as schools reopen, communities will see clusters of infection take root that include children of all ages.” Plainly speaking, “There will be transmission,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota. “What we have to do is accept that now and include that in our plans.”

• While the Pandemic Influenza of 1918 occurred in three waves, with the second being the deadliest, subsequent waves of the current novel virus are not inevitable—that is, not if proper precautions are taken. For example, “countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan quickly flattened the curve of their first wave and have so far avoided a second wave of infections altogether while keeping strict physical-distancing measures in place.”

CTNewsJunkie columnist Susan Bigelow noted in last week’s COVID-19 analysis the state’s numbers remain low, although there has been a “slight uptick in case prevalence.” Thus, “a second wave of the virus is still a danger here, and will continue to be one until the rest of the country succeeds in bringing it under control or a vaccine is released.”

Given those facts, it’s not surprising that parental enthusiasm for sending children back to school is waning.

A recent Waterbury Republican-American story reported that 15 to 20% of Connecticut parents plan to keep their kids home: “With approximately 530,000 students statewide, this early estimate suggests 79,500 to 106,000 students will not be returning when school is expected to resume in late August and early September.”

A survey released last week by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found even less nationwide enthusiasm for schools reopening: “The public is far more likely to believe major adjustments [in schools] are needed (46%) or that schools shouldn’t open at all (31%).”

By deciding now that the school year will begin with either a hybrid schedule or a remote-learning model, the state will give districts the necessary time to create protocols that improve distance learning. Among the ideas:

• Extended professional development for teachers before school starts, focusing on distance-learning strategies and logistics.

• Tutoring programs developed by teachers and offered to daycare centers and families.

• Identification of student internet and digital-device needs to be shared with benefactors who can help schools meet those needs.

These are just a few ideas for improved distance learning. They are by no means comprehensive or easily implemented, and they don’t answer all of the questions about schools and COVID-19. But making a bold decision now to delay a full reopening of schools is the right thing to do—in the name of public safety, in the name of effective schooling, and in the name of common sense.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.