Let’s get our schools back to normal | Notice
As the school year draws to a close, I still wince every time I walk past Franklin Elementary School. Hordes of young people lined up outside for various reasons, all wearing masks. This despite now overwhelming evidence that schools and children are not affected by COVID-19, nor are they vectors of its spread. Here’s a physical look at it all – for this particular coronavirus, children’s robust immune systems are really crushing their viral loads. And a high viral load is what you need to pass the disease on to others.
This reality will not stop the old cowards from attacking me on these pages. It doesn’t matter. I’ve never been the type to live well or be afraid. I wish them well as they move on to the inevitability that we all face as human beings. Making cowardice a virtue has been one of the most dysfunctional aspects of this pandemic. I can tell you that this is not a value that a persistent civilization wants to glorify.
But for the rest of us – especially those of us living in Washington State – I encourage you to be very strong and vocal for your children. Because there are long-term issues. And they may not be exactly what you might think.
There are a few by-products of the pandemic that are rarely mentioned in the press. The first is that the Red States, largely by coincidence and chance, withdrew their non-pharmaceutical interventions and saw that they had done next to nothing. The second viral wave had passed. But as they opened up, they became immigration targets for many concerned about their children. It will be interesting to see what the final statistics are, but there is no doubt that the escape of dysfunctional COVID-19 restrictions has resulted in migration patterns across our country. And people did it for their children.
Reflecting the national trend, more people than ever are actively putting their students in private schools, or even locally, moving their children to less restrictive public schools. It doesn’t mean anything good for the long-term health of a school district. Pullman and their school board seem to operate in the “we’ll do what we want” world – which of course they can. But even if the parents who moved their children out of Pullman come back, they will come back with a grudge. The vocalization of the bully left behind on the issue can keep most people silent. But revenge at the ballot box will return. And I know far too many people far more angry with this unnecessary disruption of life than the media recognizes.
The consequences of more children in private schools are not at all good for the nation as a whole. A certain level of playing field, even educational, is necessary, especially in this age of prejudice on the Internet, for our future adults to understand each other. The right and the left share the responsibility for turning our schools into cultural battlegrounds, whether it’s about teaching race or wearing a mask. The long-term consequences will be an amplified inability of people to relate to one another. Cultural cohesion is what makes a great nation.
And two educational avenues – one for the haves and the leftovers for the have-nots – do not bode well. Parents willing to make the necessary sacrifice to take their children out of school because of COVID-19 are the activist parents. And school districts need these movers and shakers. They are the ones driving change – the ones we badly need. You don’t just move the distribution when you take out these people. You cut the thinking population out of the interaction.
So that all members of the public administration can agree, it may be time to start talking about the chain of command. It is not yet too late to declare the next normal school year for children. And there is no need for a vaccine for young people – it is the last thing we need for our young people. Let’s go back to normal. With the surplus of adult vaccines, there is no reason not to.
Pezeshki is Professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University.