Students, families, employers, community leaders are asking, “What are the schools going to do this fall?” when the question should be, “What do we all need to do so that schools can remain open, so that students can get back on track and make progress in their education with as few disruptions as possible?” School districts are developing plans to provide smaller groups, and both in-person and online options, knowing that everything is subject to change based on disease levels in the community. That is a tall order, but if students lose critical time in their education, it may have long-term effects for students, their families, and society as a whole.
Americans reduced spread of the COVID-19 virus last spring, and Alaska had even greater success. Some Alaskans may have been lulled into complacency, and others may believe that they deserve a decent summer after a scary, stressful spring. Recent case counts show that, at this time, many don’t have the health of their community in mind.
What does this mean for schools? When restrictions were lifted around Memorial Day weekend, I think many people thought, “finally things are getting back to normal!” Once school opens, even more may think so.
How a community supports its schools is an expression of its values. To keep our teachers and school staff safe so our schools can stay open, we all need to think of the following:
Health care personnel take special care not to bring infections to work by wearing masks in the community, social distancing and avoiding groups. Our students, school staff, parents and anyone interfacing with the schools should do the same.
Parents want their children to be engaged in a variety of activities, but this is not the year for that. Is it reasonable to have your children in after-school sports, church, youth, and musical groups, etc., and then blame the schools for COVID-19 infections that are brought in from the community? Youth groups and churches need to consider online options or other changes to reduce spread. Parents and children should prioritize and choose one low risk activity.
Businesses working directly with the public can protect staff from bringing infections home to children who might take the virus to school. Many businesses already have masks, barriers, and social distancing in place for employees. To help keep schools open, I hope others will do their part.
Alaska’s greatest increase in cases is in young adults, which is a different group than parents who are wondering how their children and teachers are going to be safe in school. This is a challenge for public health officials. They don’t want to close bars and restaurants, but do we really have to choose between keeping bars open and opening schools safely? I don’t think so, but we can’t keep doing what we are doing and hope for the best. What can you, your family, and community do to help schools open up and stay open?
Jennifer Schmidt has been a registered nurse for almost 50 years, 27 in public health in Alaska. She served four terms on the Fairbanks North Star Borough school board. She is retired and living in Fairbanks