Saturday, May 08, 2021

Reopening School Buildings

 I am interested in your thoughts about school building reopenings.

1) How has it been for your child to be back in their school buildings, even in a limited way?

2) Do you see safety protocols being enforced?

3) Do expect/want school buildings to be fully reopened on a regular school schedule in the fall?

Here’s an article from The Atlantic that says that right now, some of the concern over COVID appears to be performative, either thru habit or fear or both. 


Alex Goldstein, a progressive PR consultant who was a senior adviser to Representative Ayanna Pressley’s 2018 campaign, told me. “Either you believe that you have a responsibility to take action to protect a person you don’t know OR you believe you have no responsibility to anybody who isn’t in your immediate family.”

My take is the former because I choose to live in a society. On a day-to-day basis, sure, my family comes first for me. But we do live in a society.

 I don’t have a problem being outdoors and not wearing a mask (and by that I mean being outdoors for a period of time, not just walking from your car/bike to the door to a business). 

But I choose to wear a mask indoors because even if I am now vaccinated, others are not. I could get COVID and not really be affected but I sure could pass it to someone who is not vaccinated. 

As you may have heard in the news, we are reaching a point where there is a surplus of vaccines with not as many people coming in to get vaccinated. So here’s another question - are you going to allow your teen to get vaccinated when that comes online?

Following news of school districts and their challenges, one interesting fact seems to be the norm - white parents loudly want schools reopened but black/brown families less so. (I note that data does not come from any research but rather, many news stories.) 

Most of these stories also share a compelling reason: students’ mental health.

Here’s a good story from Mother Jones:


According to a December report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 62 percent of white parents strongly or somewhat agreed that school should reopen this fall, while less than half of Black parents agreed. In a Pew Research survey conducted in mid-February, Black adults were the most likely of all racial groups to worry about the health risks of reopening—80 percent of Black adults wanted kids to stay remote until teachers were vaccinated, for example, while only 51 percent of white adults felt the same.

And no wonder: The pandemic has dealt a disproportionately heavy blow to Black Americans. According to CDC data published in September, Black youth accounted for 29 percent of COVID-19 deaths among people under 21, twice the percentage for white youth. The federal agency also found Black children under 18 at a significantly higher risk of hospitalization—almost four times higher than white children and teens. 

But the white families fear their students are so depressed about the cutoff of activities/friends/classes, that some students might want to commit suicide. The research I read on that says that more pediatricians are hearing from their school-aged patients that the child is thinking about it but there is no uptick in teen suicides since the pandemic. 

But black/brown families fear for their student’s mental health probably for the same reasons as white students but with the added concern of going back to a school environment where their child is fearful about other students’ behavior towards them as well as teachers/principals treatment of them. 

However, there is also the worry about learning dropoff and that it will turn out to be more acute for black/brown students.

According to Pew’s findings, a majority of white adults say the prospect of students falling behind academically and the negative impact of school closures on students’ emotional well-being should weigh heavily in reopening decisions. 

I would add that many black/brown parents also do not believe in the health of the school building where their child attends school. Former Superintendent Juneau told the Board that every building’s HVAC system had been assessed and issues “addressed.” I wish I could say that I trusted the district to make sure the air circulation is good and cleanliness measures will be followed but, in the past, the district has made many claims about school buildings that were not true. 

Another issue? Not enough nurses or counselors. From my reading, I’ll say the overwhelming majority of parents are worried about their child having anxiety at school after the reopenings and who will address that with their child.

Yet another issue? Continuing remote learning. My understanding is that teachers are finding it incredibly difficult to teach in a building as well as teaching remotely. In the paragraph below, you can see what concerns some parents:

Where will the staff come from to give us that individual attention when our children are not understanding the work?” she asked. “Will the message be that in-person is the norm, we gave you an option, and you could’ve gotten better service if you came into the building?”

So another question: do you want to continue remote? How long should the district continue remote service before then directing those students to an online school?


Unknown said...

I do want the schools to reopen full time and expect the schools to do so in the fall. Now that we offered vaccines to the vulnerable population, we really should be tracking deaths/hospitalizations in favor of case counts, because the true benefit of the vaccines will be in reducing death.

This partial day / partial week hybrid model with no proper transportation or time for transportation is crushing for me as a single working parent. The endless hours of screen time is crushing for my kids. Some teachers are using the in-person hours as "study hours" with the at home kids being mandatory on the class meeting. They are sitting in silence on their computers doing homework assignments.

uber said...

After too many years as an SPS parent, I am suspicious that SPS has actually done all the remediation necessary to make our buildings safe. The interim Super Brent Jones will have to contend with that suspicion from many parents amongst the rest of the bad behavior he inherited. Along those lines, the school or the state or the city, needs to address the mental health concerns of all kids coming back. Just having nurses and counselors would be a minimal start but given funding, I doubt it will happen. If families of color are pushing back on a return, well maybe this pandemic will force the hand of SPS to address disproportionate discipline policies, special ed concerns, racism etc instead of getting away with laying all that at the feet of Advanced Learners and ANY GROUPS BESIDES THE ADULTS LEADING SPS. I want my kids to return to school full time as soon as it is safe for everyone. That, I believe, will be more realistic when vaccinations are available for all age groups. If we listen to science, we may see vaccinations for all by summer. In the meantime, SPS needs to get to work to do the hard work and I really hope they don't act like this is a regular year and push any negotiations to August, which is a poor policy in the best of times.

Anonymous said...

We will not be having any of a remote option next year. Depression is a real outcome of staying home all day and I can’t in good faith keep presenting this hokey remote approach to education to my children. It is joyless, it is glitchy and soul-sucking, it was always meant as a stop gap until we get to a good public health place. It is proving to be harmful in the long run for my students academically and socially.

There was a great article in the NYT over the weekend about families being hesitant to return for other reasons, including that some students were now working full time jobs to support families, and students watching siblings. How did we let remote school exploit students for labor to the detriment of their education? These are like 19th Century problems dressed up in 2021 circumstances.

Appreciate the attention to racial dynamics here, but leaders need to lead and ask WHY and HOW can we make you feel safer to return? Perhaps a grace year with a remote option is acceptable until vaccinations and public health stabilizes, but our Board is just signaling to the community that no, schools are not safe, and that is not true.

There is a Seattle Times article reporting that Bellevue, Highline, Tacoma and others have announced a plan. They all have standalone remote academies available. Most of the country has already moved on to these approaches. That Seattle is still sorting through this is negligence, harmful, and will have political and financial consequences.

Buildings or Bust

Unknown said...

Remote learning was adequate as a temporary solution during the worst of the pandemic. However, the longer it dragged on, the more my elementary-aged kids began to suffer in terms of their education, sleep, social skills, energy level, and general motivation.

To answer your questions:

1) My kids were thrilled to be allowed to return to their school building, if even for a few hours each day. Seeing their friends and teachers in person has resulted in a huge improvement in their mood and ability to learn.

2) Safety protocols are being enforced, possibly too much. The playground was off-limits for a while, which I found very strange since the playgrounds at city parks have been open for months. I'm happy that the kids are being allowed to play on them now, especially since Covid is not likely to be transmitted by touching surfaces.

3) I certainly expect schools to be operating full-time and in-person in the fall for grades K-12. Barring a new Covid variant that renders the vaccine useless, there is absolutely no reason for schools to remain in the hybrid model. I have no problem with families being offered the option to remain remote, but full-time, in-person learning must be in place by fall for all who want it. Some families simply cannot function under remote or hybrid learning conditions; making these types of educational models even semi-permanent would be a complete disaster for most children and their parents.

Dagny Hartmann said...

I fully expect full time in person schooling for every family that wants it in fall. To go further, remote learning has been a disaster for my family and I will not participate in it after June 18th. The hybrid schedule we’re on now is an improvement, my son doesn’t cry everyday and threaten self harm. The lack of transportation though is a major issue, I’m a single working parent, and without bus service to after school care the hybrid schedule only works because a generous friend is helping me. I will hand in the school issued iPad on June 18th and not take a new device, my child will learn in person come fall.

RB said...

1) For the measly two hours and 45 min four days a week: it is pure gold. Something was dead inside my child that is now alive. He is exuberant upon pickup, he likes learning again, and he feels confident in himself as a learner again. Then for the rest of the day, and all day Wednesday, it's a waste where he does almost no learning and I do a little work--no one wins. To accommodate this hybrid schedule, our two full time working parent household has enacts a logistical circus that sacrifices parental mental health, physical health, and work time. Is it worth it? Yes, but only because full-time remote school was so, so terrible.

2) Do you see safety protocols being enforced? Yes. I think 6 ft in the classroom is too restrictive, though, given the CDC's current guideline.

3) Do expect/want school buildings to be fully reopened on a regular school schedule in the fall? I absolutely want it, particularly after watching my child slowly lose the will to learn and become angry and withdrawn. But, do I expect it? No, which is why I am spending time and energy advocating for it to the school board, the SPS administration, and state legislators.

When it comes to the racial disparities and attitudes for returning to school buildings, I do try to continually pause to reflect on my own privilege as a white woman, with a family of two incomes, and some flexibility to make things work even though it's hard. But it does seem to me that over the past year, SPS and the board has used remote learning as a platform to conflate a lot of the issues and don't have a lot of data to back up their claims. If they had spent the last year collecting on the ground data, connecting with individual families most impacted, and then constructing a new model of school that could better serve the students most at risk...and they unveiled it in, say, January...I would have listened. But they have not spent their time trying to solve these problems and present solutions. I just can't stop thinking...if in-person school is the problem for these students, then the solution is probably improving the in-person experience not taking those kids out of school buildings and calling it solved. If keeping a remote option truly does serve these students and families better than their in-person experience, I'm all for it as an option until a better in-school experience can be offered.

juicygoofy said...

First, welcome back Melissa. We've missed you. To answer your questions:

1) It's been a mixed bag for my 11th grader back in person. She was/is incredibly happy to be back in person, connecting with her teachers and truly learning from them. On the first day, she reported that she learned more in one afternoon of in person math class than she had learned all year. She said something like "Imagine how great I'd be at math if I had been in person all year." So, that is both good and bittersweet. She has been a little sad that some of her friends opted not to return to in-person or are on the opposite schedule.

2) Safety protocols seem fine, as far as I know. My daughter is not reporting on any violations or concerns (at least not at Ballard HS.)

3) We absolutely both want and expect SPS schools to be open full time, in person, without computers this fall. Remote education was an acceptable solution a year ago, when we knew little about how Covid spreads. But the past year of hybrid education at SPS and reliance on screens has been entirely inadequate and actually harmful. The youth health crisis is very real. Nearly every one of my daughter's friends was seeing or seeking therapy at some point during the year, and it was not because of Covid fears or isolation. It was mostly because SPS's remote model of instruction was causing anxiety (not enough live instruction/too much reliance on independent learning/lenient attendance and grading standards reinforcing poor study habits, procrastination and allegedly cheating.)

Added comment:
It used to be that only select families understood SPS's problems (those with students in special ed, or HC or possibly caught up in a program closure or boundary move.) But now, it seems like every single parent I talk to is echoing how bad the school year was. Parents know that private schools and public schools elsewhere were open hybrid all year, and many are back full time already now. Families are largely expecting that our kids will be back full time, in-person in the fall. If this is not the case, I predict significant repercussions such as further drops in enrollment and movements to not vote for next year's school levy.

Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, it is now May 2021 and we have a vaccine, have learned much and have data & science. People's choices & opinions change. Vaccine hesitancy and school hesitancy have been compared. There is national data as to why there was a racial divide, and only in some areas, regarding return. In some areas there were many non-white parents protesting that there kids did not have an opportunity to return like neighboring districts. Media accounts are cherry picked & anecdotal. Yet data and science are not always a match for strongly held bias and beliefs. Educational researchers studying this issue provide data. The strongest predictor nationally of return was whether a student's own district was open, and trust and safety communicated by district. There are many more details here in a summary https://www.crpe.org/thelens/whats-behind-racial-divide-school-reopening It is also much more murky and complex then how some media has framed racial differences. Example In NYC Asian families were much less likely to return then all other groups, including Black families. While Latino/Hispanic families returned proportional to their representation last Fall, about 45%. The situation has dramatically changed, we have a vaccine that is expected in some areas to reach very high levels in some areas such as Seattle, especially now that teens can be vaccinated. Forecasters expect virus to plummet in these areas. Some areas like Seattle may have one of the highest rates nationwide and may even reach true "herd immunity" with 80% vaccinated. The expectation for Full time Fall in person is expected nationally, and the Secretary of Education Miguel Cordona has made that very clear. The data in regards to keeping kids out of school and/or on computers ongoing has been devastating. Israel had a 67% rate of vaccination, without "herd immunity" yet virus plummeted to allow near normal situation. Virologists have explained we do not need to achieve herd immunity to have a safe environment.
Data Matters

TooMuchScreenTime said...

For parents wanting full-time, in-person in the fall (which I 100% support), be sure in your advocacy to demand full-time, in-person, LOW OR NO SCREENS. I think SPS is slippery enough to tell parents what they want to hear ("yeah, sure, full-time in-person in the fall") and then still offer a remote option that puts the burden on teachers to teach to both cohorts (a la hybrid) and it becomes "Zoom in a Room" ("Teams", but it doesn't rhyme). So be wary and BE SPECIFIC in your demands. Parents do have the option to "opt out" of standardized testing, etc.-- I would add this possible pseudo-in-person-hybrid-zoom-in-a-room option to the list of things parents can and should demand to opt out of too.

Anonymous said...

To also add that when Seattle viral levels fall, and vaccination is at such a high threshold the community "effectively" has controlled the pandemic, and even the unvaccinated are safe. National media, virologists and medical leaders have done a great job of articulating this fact. Add this to the fact that young children do not have the same risk of severe illness as older adults. They will not need to be vaccinated to attend school safely. However I expect districts to offer a virtual "option" for kids who are immunocompromised, or families who need more time. That being said, 2-11 will also likely have access to the Pfizer vaccine this Fall.
Data Matters

Melissa Westbrook said...

Data Matters, I generally do not trust CRPE because of their funders and their slant. That said, this was a decent article. Also,while children do not seem to get COVID as harshly as adults, they can get it and give it to adults in their sphere. This is a great reason for ADULTS to get vaccinated so that children who may not be vaccinated for a long time, won’t pick COVID up and give it to unvaccinated adults.

To those saying SPS should be careful in what they tell already wary parents, I say, ditto. The district is already in financial trouble and what if more parents decide to leave? That would be a disaster.

Anonymous said...

@ Melissa To add more information, the article was written by an associate professor from Ohio State University, it pulled together national data. There are many ways to get to extremely minuscule risk of transmission, including very high rates of vaccination in community which effectively lead to control. Within this context, I would question a district whose plan would be to keep all their kids online, in some form, ongoing in an area with one of the highest rates of vaccination predicted in the entire country. It would not be about virus in this case. This would include full time in person, but a single teacher still teaching two groups of kids. Especially when neighboring districts with much more diversity are prioritizing the importance of and communicating the safety of in person full time. Highline has an 18% white population, yet 40 percent of students of color returned in person Spring. In a neighboring district with much higher diversity and three times the rate of virus levels of Seattle. The data suggests this percentage will grow Fall 2021. Things are changing rapidly. Many also offering a dedicated virtual academy with a superior platform with dedicated teachers, differentiated by timeline, grade level etc. Let's hope that is the plan for all our districts including SPS, otherwise I would question a stated commitment to equity. There is no equity if you have to change districts, to receive a regular in person education. There is much data on disparities nationwide including disproportionately negative effects upon single parent households, women and children.
Data Matters

Welcome Home said...

Yesterday, The Seattle Times had a story about vaccination rates in various parts of the city. Some areas of Seattle have vaccination rates of greater than 80%, I fully expect children in these areas to be fully vaccinated, as well. Thus, in some areas of the city, it is possible for schools to reach herd immunity.

Vaccine hesitancy is a problem.

Anonymous said...

@vaccine hesitancy -The city of Seattle, is anticipated to reach high levels of vaccination, combined with low viral levels. Virologists have explained that true "herd immunity" is not always needed to have reached a level of control and extremely low risk. In Israel for example the population only immunized 67%, not true "herd immunity" yet levels of virus dropped very low which has enabled near normal conditions.

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to the rate as of May 5th. Our region's vaccination rates are predicted to be among highest in the nation. All of Seattle will be low. Fall 2021 is 4 months away. Getting teens vaccinated will only increase Seattle's overall vaccination rates. We had been experiencing another wave due to variant, which flatlined, due to increase of vaccination rates. The under 49 group has only recently had wider access to vaccinations. They expect overall covid numbers to go down within weeks. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/covid-19-vaccinations-near-70-in-king-county-but-areas-south-and-east-lag/

Anonymous said...

Welcome back and thank you for resuming this blog! You and this site have been sorely missed.

My experience is the same as RB's. It's been a godsend having my kid back in the classroom. They are clearly much happier, better adjusted, better all around. Their academic growth during remote learning was fine but that is taking off too back in the classroom. This all has conclusively shown that human beings learn from other human beings and not from screens.

As to racial equity, keeping schools closed cannot achieve equity. There is no possibility of equity by taking away something that isn't working, isn't equitable, isn't just. That would be true of every aspect of American society. We cannot just toss this all out. Instead we have to dig deep and make these institutions equitable.

SPS needs to be pushed hard to make student health and well-being the center of their work. Right now they don't carer. The bully board majority is more interested in power trips and score settling. The senior staff under Juneau were contemptuous of parents, teachers, and kids. Perhaps Brent Jones will change this, but likely not without firing the board incumbents who are up for re-election and replacing them with those who are truly committed to equity, to public education, and to the well being of every student.