By: Stephen Lynch, Columnist
As on-campus students here at TU have been sent home due to issues arising from COVID-19, the importance of a safe return school has never been more prominent than it is currently. Everyone I have spoken with (both teachers and students) are eager to return to the classroom; they are ready for a return to normalcy, but is normalcy justification for putting lives at risk? The unequivocal answer is no. While conservative pundits and politicians advocate for a return to school; at times with a seeming nonchalant attitude towards the lives of teachers and students, instead we should follow common sense which dictates patience and safety as being the guiding way forward.
This past week Gov. Larry Hogan has been pushing for schools across Maryland to begin reopening schools believing that metrics have demonstrated Maryland is on a downward trajectory in confirmed coronavirus cases. While the data certainly speaks to this, Maryland has, in fact, done very well when compared to many states in the U.S., this is not the time to be pressuring county boards of education to begin in-person classes. Gov. Hogan stated that it, “[…] is not acceptable” for classes to be taught solely online. Online courses do not provide a conducive atmosphere for learning; with various distractions, uncomfortable learning spaces, and a lack of access to materials. Compounded with issues of accessibility to digital resources it is certainly a difficult position. All this is true. Yet, given the ferociousness of this virus, and the tight confines common in many school buildings, there is no way to not put the lives of students, young and old, as well as faculty members, at risk. What must come first is the safety and health of the students and teachers
While some jurisdictions are aware of the risk and advocate for precautions to minimize risk, there are some institutions that have mandated teachers act surreptitiously when dealing with positive coronavirus tests. The University of Alabama emailed professors demanding they “remain quiet” about any tests that come back positive while an outbreak of the virus is occurring on campus. While privacy concerns should be considered, so too should the concerns of students who may have come in contact with an infected individual. Not long after the return to classes in Georgia was required, a viral photo made its way across the internet showcasing a serious dilemma with reopening schools; the blatant refusal to mandate social distancing and the wearing of masks. The photo shows a high school hallway packed to the brim with students not wearing masks and walking shoulder-to-shoulder as they transition in between classes. Unsurprisingly, the student who took the photo was subject to multiple abuses and threats online after the photo went viral. The issue of mask-wearing/social distancing finds its origins in talking points spearheaded by right-wing media sources who have spread conspiracy theories and misinformation; and politicians who have put little trust into the data provided by health officials. Thus demonstrating conservatives incredulity when it comes to the severity of the virus which has wreaked havoc in this country.
The reopening of schools should not be a political issue, yet it has become one. False information spread by various right-wing think-tanks have polluted the waters of a return to school with a foulness making what should be a transparent issue into an opaque issue. Something like the health and well-being of students and teachers has become bifurcated leading to a “this” or “that” choice as opposed to a choice based on factual evidence and guided by empathy.