Opinion: Time to go to school come next year

Arthur Ebert and Aaron Miller

While Michigan continues to resume some normal activity during this tragic COVID-19 crisis, many questions still linger. The last two and a half months have been a whirlwind to be sure, and that has been nobody’s fault. The fault especially does not lie with Michigan’s almost 1.5 million school kids, but they will be among the most affected.

When school was in session statewide for the last time on March 13, we all plunged into the unknown, but we did so with the singular goal of protecting our kids and those to whom they might spread the disease. Now that we have had time to regroup and prepare, it’s time to go back to school at the start of the school year, so that we can best care for and protect our youth.

In March, political leaders worldwide were making decisions for kids with the worst scenario in mind, not knowing what might happen. Research now suggests what we didn’t know then: Kids don’t catch or spread COVID-19 as easily as previously thought. This is according to new research by noted immunologists Dr. Saul Faust and Dr. Alasdair Munro, and it is a strong step in alleviating the concerns of educational leaders and parents as we get closer to September when normal school calendars are planned to commence.

Students are not at fault for the whirlwind caused by Covid-19, but they will be among the most affected, Ebert and Miller write.

Sturgis is working together as a community to creatively plan for that possibility safely and efficiently. Sturgis Public Schools is already talking to area churches and community centers about how kids might be spaced out more than normal and still attend school five days per week, also allowing for students to continue distance learning whose parents still aren’t comfortable with that setup by August.

Furthermore, the district is purchasing additional disinfectant equipment, forehead thermometers, personal protective equipment, hand sanitation stations, and installing touchless technologies throughout the district. Additionally, procedures like eating lunch in the classroom to avoid large gatherings and staggering start and end times to reduce bus congestion are being considered. That is the beauty of local control, which schools have long championed: Each school community with its own unique characteristics knows how to accomplish its goals better than anyone else. Sturgis’ plan probably looks drastically different from some others depending on thousands of different mitigating factors, and that’s OK. 

The opportunity cost for keeping schools closed has already been made abundantly clear. Academic, social and emotional learning losses are real, and those who experience them most are at a disadvantage in normal times, but especially in this crisis with no school. The disadvantaged consist of children of single working parents, students with language barriers, those without reliable Internet, special education students who need more one-on-one attention, and more.  Students in these categories rely on school as a place of stability and they should, and they’re not getting that right now and those consequences are more brutal than some might think. There are also undoubtedly other longer-term impacts to child development that we haven’t even realized yet.

We think the COVID-19 pandemic has been tragic and we are heartbroken by the deaths and lives affected by the virus. As Michigan’s Return to School Advisory Council starts to formulate plans for what its name implies, it must consider what Drs. Munro and Faust have revealed and also the detriment that school closure brings to kids. Despite our best efforts, the reality is that we are social beings and many kids are already interacting with their peers without the structure of school. It is time to get back to school for the emotional well-being and education of our kids.

Arthur Ebert, Ph.D., is superintendent of Sturgis Public Schools. Rep. Aaron Miller, a former high school math teacher, chairs the school aid budget in the Michigan House of Representatives. Both reside in Sturgis, a city of 11,000 near the Indiana border