COVID-19 continues to rampage through Snohomish county; we should reopen schools anyways

By Jakob Nacanaynay, Hawkeye Staff

Governor Jay Inslee issued an emergency proclamation that all schools in Washington must offer an in-person option for all students K-12 starting mid-April. The bombshell announcement, announced On March 12, 2021, has been met with mixed feelings as many cast doubt on the safety and logistics of opening schools in a month. However, after researching the Center of Disease Control (CDC) recommendations, I believe there is a strong case to open schools in the Edmonds School District this spring instead of waiting till next year.

1. Assuming CDC safety recommendations (cleaning, mask usage, social distancing, testing, etc.) are met, it is safe for the Edmonds School District to open now.

The CDC classifies Snohomish county as having a moderate community transmission level of COVID-19 defined as having “10-49 total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days” and “5.0%-7.9% positive nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs)”. The CDC recommends for moderate risk areas that “K-12 schools open for full in-person instruction. Physical distancing of 6 feet or more to the greatest extent possible.” In plain terms, it is safe to open schools in Snohomish county (meaning the Edmonds School District). It is important to note however that many other schools in Washington state do not meet CDC reopening recommendations and thus should wait until the transmission rate lowers to an acceptable number.

2. Allowing an in-person option will help in reducing the mental toll isolation has taken on students during the pandemic, as well as helping with education inequities.

A 2020 CDC report on mental health-related emergency department visits makes it clear that virtual learning has had a negative effect.

“Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health–related visits for children aged 5–11 and 12–17 years increased approximately 24% and 31%, respectively… Mental health concerns in these age groups might be exacerbated by stress related to the pandemic and abrupt disruptions to daily life associated with mitigation efforts, including anxiety about illness, social isolation, and interrupted connectedness to school.”

Allowing an in-person option can go a long way to re-establishing social interactions and connectedness lost in virtual learning. Additionally, an option for in-person learning can reduce education inequity in virtual learning.

“The absence of in-person educational options may disadvantage children from all backgrounds, particularly children in low-resourced communities who may be at an educational disadvantage. These students may be less likely to have access to technology to facilitate virtual learning and more likely to rely on key school-supported resources like food programs, special education and related services, counseling and after-school programs. Some parents and caregivers may have less-flexible jobs that do not permit staying at home to provide childcare and aid with virtual learning if schools are closed to in-person instruction.”

I also want to make it clear that the governor’s proclamation is to give families the option to participate in in-person learning. If a family feels like doing so will put others at risk, or switching will be too problematic, then they have the choice to continue with virtual learning.

3. I agree that reopening schools is a logistical nightmare, but we have guidance to help lead the way. We should try our best to work it out for students.

I fully acknowledge the concerns over being able to distance students, transporting students to school and getting teachers to teach in person in the first place. It will be a monstrous task to achieve in a month, but we aren’t left completely in the dark.

The hybrid model has been discussed at least since July. Other schools across the country have been open and developed strategies to protect students for months. The CDC has clear guidelines and recommendations to keep students and staff safe.

I do not have a job in the district nor am I a logistician. What I do believe is that we should be trying our best to make in-person learning an option and to reopen as soon as possible. We can push and prod at the logistics all day, but we must start taking action now.