Our children stopped attending school since the lockdown this past spring due to the pandemic. Parents, grandparents and guardians wondered how kids would return to school safely and what the state of Iowa would do to protect them.
COVID-19 is relentless. It is now turning the United States into the wrong kind of world leader, presenting the highest number of positive cases and deaths from the coronavirus. Iowa, as of Monday morning, reported 28,699 confirmed cases and 707 deaths.
Families are coping with losses of all kinds and are now facing the uncertainty of having their kids return to school this fall. This is the time for sound, caring and science-based leadership in our country, at all levels of government.
Government authorities deciding the future of our kids should take the time to study the risks, listen to the families they serve and arrive at the best possible set of guidelines and plans. Our communities need to be assured that decisions are made with our children’s best interests in mind, not because of economic pressure.
On June 25, the Iowa Department of Education released guidance about returning to school in the fall, stating masks and social distancing will not be required for the 327 school districts, 119 accredited nonpublic schools and more than 550,000 schoolchildren. Unsurprisingly, this statement caused immediate criticism from parents, school administrators and many others in the community. The next day, the department released a second statement acknowledging its first set of guidelines needed further clarification and it will release additional information soon.
In Des Moines, for many, there is relief in knowing that at least masks will be required for children and staff attending public schools.
As a grandparent, I was appalled when I read the first statement from the education department. I knew there was going to be backlash from others concerned for their kids. On social media, comments about the guidelines were rampant. As usual, I sought the concerns and thoughts of parents, educators and school board members, some of which are featured below.
Maria Gonzalez, Marshalltown, 5- and 7-year-old kids
“The leadership at the state government has been a joke during this entire pandemic, so I should expect nothing less when it comes to the safety of our children. With the number of children in our public schools, they will become the new meatpacking plants if we do not take the proper precautions! As a mother of two young children, I am terrified as to what is to come. My only hope is that our district will put the well-being of our children first.”
Jessica Trinidad, Des Moines, 4- and 16-year-old kids
“It does not make sense to expose our youth, our future, to COVID-19 by bringing them back to the ‘normal’ school setting when cases continue to rise throughout the United States and around the world. We have already figured out how to continue their education remotely, why change it now? Why not wait until we have control over this new virus? It seems like they want to experiment with our youth. Every parent should think about it once, twice, or even three times before sending their children back to school.”
Alex Piedras, Des Moines, 9- and 15-year-old kids
“I believe the DOE’s decision is a poor one and goes against the recommendations from the CDC. I am glad DMPS will require masks for students and teachers.”
Rob Barron, Des Moines school board member
“I believe Des Moines is doing the right thing by requiring masks, even though I know it is a challenge for younger kids. We must care for the children and staff that are in our buildings and we know that wearing mask greatly reduces transmission of the coronavirus.”
In a statement cited by local media, a spokesperson for the Iowa State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the DOE plan does not comply with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for school districts.
“It is a gamble and obscene that the governor and the Department of Education are gambling on the health and safety of our students, our staff and school employees,” ISEA said.
Unfortunately, this is another instance where the socioeconomic status of many Iowans plays a big role in their well-being and safety. Many families are afraid of the unknown and scared to send their kids back to school wondering if they are going to get infected with the coronavirus.
Some parents are able to work from home and can afford to keep their kids at home, but many others have very limited options and are forced to send their kids back to school regardless of their fears, in hopes that schools will keep their children safe.
According to the CDC, based on available evidence, children are at a lower risk of contracting the coronavirus than adults. While some children and infants have been sick with COVID-19, adults make up most of the known cases to date. In Iowa, 5% of positive coronavirus cases are among people under 18.
However, the CDC also says that if children meet in groups, that can put everyone at risk. Children can pass the virus onto others who are at higher risk of severe illness, including older adults and people who have serious underlying medical conditions.
COVID-19 is not yesterday’s news, it is an ongoing and invisible enemy. The virus has been bad for everyone and most difficult for those negatively impacted by the lack of state leadership, the kind that should make us feel protected and safe.
For some, these guidelines may hit closer to home, away from the hotspots at meatpacking plants or nursing homes. We are now talking about the lives of our children, the future of Iowa and a vulnerable segment that depends on adults to keep them safe.
Back to “normal” will get scary for many Iowans as the school year nears.
One of the ironies of the state guidelines is a meme reflecting life itself that reads: If the meeting to reopen schools takes place via ZOOM for the safety of the participants, maybe you shouldn’t be discussing reopening the schools. Just saying.
They cannot risk getting sick, but do not care much about our children. This is not our field of dreams anymore.
By Claudia Thrane
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