Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Any Solution that Doesn't Include Our Collective Voice Will be Dangerous and Flawed

A week ago, I wrote a post called Birds of a Feather Will Flock Together, in which I asserted the plain facts that if we are going to start sending preschool aged children back to their schools and child cares we cannot count on social distancing as a way to limit the risk of spreading the coronavirus. It will be impossible to enforce without draconian measures that will likely damage children (not to mention teachers) socially and emotionally. I did not take a stand on whether or not we should open our schools right now. I was simply saying that if we do decide we need to open our schools now, we won't be able to count on social distancing as a tool.

I was presenting a truth about preschoolers. I didn't take a public policy stand and most readers got that, but there were still many who let me know that they were "disappointed" with me or that I was "dangerous," some accusing me of advocating for opening the schools right away (which I did not) and others accusing me of being a Nervous Nelly (which I am not). I have more to say on the topic today, so lest I be misunderstood, I'm going to be perfectly clear about my position: I don't know. My instinct is to stick with the plan to keep kids home until the fall, with the caveat that I get to change my mind if circumstances change.

That said, preschools in some places in the US, due to economic pressures, are re-opening whether I like it or not. In the spirit of a mental experiment then, here are some of my thoughts on what schools could do to at least mitigate some of the risk.

I feel about masks much the way I feel about social distancing: they won't do a lot of good with the preschooler set. I'm inclined to defer to medical professionals, although those with whom I've been in touch tell me the most adults are using the masks incorrectly, so I imagine young children will as well. It would probably be more of a feel good measure to require the children and their teachers to wear masks, but again, I would heed the advice of experts.

Hand washing is already a big part of most preschool days. I'm am quite certain that most young children already wash their hands far more frequently than most adults. I would urge extra vigilance around the sink. Sanitizing surfaces is something we always did at Woodland Park at least twice a day, often more. And we've always encouraged children to cough and sneeze into their elbows instead of their hands. These are all day-to-day common sense measures, that are far from 100 percent effective, but the science behind them is unassailable.

The virus seems to spread less easily outdoors, so that's where I'd try to keep the kids. I've been in touch with several educators who are doing exactly that right now, with their children spending 6-7 hours outside every day. Outdoor education has a long, successful history even without a virus to worry about. I would hope that a re-focus on outdoor education for everyone would be a permanent and positive change we could make.

I would make soap and water play available all day long, every day. This is not a replacement for hand washing and the water would need to be regularly refreshed, but my sensory table would be soapy. I would probably even purchase a bunch of wading pools that I would deploy both indoors and outdoors, and yes, I'd let the kids strip down if they wanted to enjoy a full body experience. Those kids would come home clean!

And finally, if we really want this to work, we would have daily testing. From what I understand, there are now tests that produce results in 15 minutes. I would require each child and each staff member to be tested every morning before the start of the school day. In my cooperative preschool setting, I would trust parents to test their own child before even getting to school. When I ran this idea by my wife she raised the objections that I expect many readers will raise, such as "It will be too expensive," and "There aren't enough tests as there is," both valid points. But if we really are going to be re-opening our economy on the backs of our preschoolers and their teachers, I don't see how we can't make daily testing a part of our routine for the time being. The federal government has both the "bully pulpit" and the authority to cause US businesses to make more of the tests, faster, and with price controls. I'm not an expert on these things, but despite chest thumping to the contrary, our nation is woefully behind on the kind of testing that other countries are relying on to more safely begin their return to normal. Since preschools are essential to our economy, I would think that the expense of these tests should be borne by all of us, rather than individual schools.

Those are my thoughts, which may very well change tomorrow. I'm sure I've disappointed and angered some people. I want to reiterate that I don't think we should be rushing to re-open preschools, but I also know that many will be re-starting in the coming weeks, some have already re-started, and others never closed. I know that there are thousands of loving teachers who are doing the best they can with limited resources, forced to rely upon their own best thinking. I know that my contribution here is meager and I'm hoping that some of these teachers will share their experiences in making it work.

I'm prepared to change my mind on pretty much anything related to our current plague, but there is one thing of which I am convinced: we need to have discussions about these things and teachers must have a seat at the table. We are the professionals and any solution that doesn't include our collective voice will be dangerous and flawed.


My new book, Teacher Tom's Second Bookis at the printers! We're offering a pre-publication discount through May 18. I'm incredibly proud of it. And while you're on the site, you can also find my first book, Teacher Tom's First Book, at a discount as well.

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