Healthy Kids Belong In School!
Healthy Kids Belong In School!
Dear Governor Holcomb,
Thank you for your efforts to address the pandemic in our state. We appreciate your inclusion of scientists, epidemiologists, and physicians in making these tough decisions.
As parents of elementary, middle, and high school children in Johnson County, we are pleading for you to take a more proactive stance in encouraging our state to “Open the Schools!”
The recommendations you provided in your most recent State Response to Covid-19 report of August 26th, gave us hope that state leadership encourages the operation of all grades in-person, where doing so is considered safe.
In counties with “minimal community spread” such as Johnson County, there is no reason school corporations cannot safely operate in person, particularly where virtual learning options also exist for families choosing such an accommodation. (Even in communities considered “high community spread,” the state recommends schools “consider,” but does not require virtual learning.)
And yet, the school year has commenced, and school corporations are paralyzed in their determination to get our children back in school!
We know the decisions for all Indiana school corporations to facilitate in-person instruction are extremely complex and nuanced. We know that our educators and administrators care about our children and truly believe that in-person education is best for the students, and as evidenced by the reason you cited for the current mask mandate (so kids could get back to in-person schooling), so do you!
However, school corporations are saddled with contradictory, if not competing, responsibilities in their public service this school year as they are tasked to comply with state and local health guidelines AND prioritize the academic, mental health, and basic physical health and safety needs of the students.
The reality is that, in addition to meeting academic needs, schools offer a safe haven for many children, where food security, stability, and guidance are assured. As parents, we are concerned about those children who do not have a voice for themselves. We cannot imagine the long-term effects on the children who may increasingly be experiencing hunger, neglect, abuse, isolation, depression, anxiety, and emotional distress. In-person schooling is a place where these things can be observed and remedied and where our children can be best supported!
In order for schools to remain in-person for both educational and safe haven objectives, state and local health department guidelines must be re-evaluated and more narrowly tailored. Determining less restrictive guidelines, while maintaining efficacy, is likely the most important variable in terms of keeping students learning in-person this school year. If less restrictive guidelines are not adopted, the guidelines alone will force schools to close or remain closed more rampantly than any spike in Covid-positive numbers.
We need your leadership to work with the Indiana State Health Department in re-evaluating the data and statistics!
On day 6 of our school year, in a district where families had a choice for in-person or virtual education this semester, our school corporation abruptly moved those in-person students to a virtual and then hybrid education for 3 weeks! The reason was not the low Covid-positive numbers (only 7 total in a school district of over 8,500 students). The reason was the masses of HEALTHY students required to quarantine due to close contact of one testing positive for Covid-19 in accordance with the state and local guidelines. Approximately 25-50 HEALTHY students were required to stay home for 14 days, which resulted in 316 students quarantining by the end of the first week of the school year. That number of HEALTHY quarantined students exponentially increases with each Covid-positive test and could very quickly close a school.
The guidelines pertaining to HEALTHY students are an extreme and unnecessary overreach. When in our history have we ever quarantined HEALTHY people? Furthermore, if students are wearing masks during the identified close contact exposure, and the HEALTHY students are quarantined in spite of mask compliance, the guidelines imply that either masks do not work or that such “in an abundance of caution” guidelines are motivated by remote possibilities and even fear.
Additionally, schools in general do not have the classroom space to accommodate a 6 foot radius around each student. Even after careful classroom measuring to maximize forward-facing space to minimize student contact, many HEALTHY students will still be forced to quarantine based on a close contact association pursuant to the current guidelines. If students are wearing masks during the close contact, why is 6 additional feet of bubble space also required around them? Would 3 feet be sufficient? Or do masks alone protect the students without additional distancing requirements?
Furthermore, and most importantly, school corporations throughout the greater Indianapolis area are reporting that these HEALTHY students who have been required to quarantine due to a close contact as defined by the guidelines, are returning to school and reporting that NONE of them ever tested positive for Covid-19 during the 14-day quarantine. Such data supports that HEATHY students should not be categorically quarantined based on close contact but should be identified and diligently monitored for symptoms, as we do with more familiar viral and bacterial infections (cold, flu A, flu B, strep, pink eye…).
It is impossible to achieve such goals as zero positive Covid cases or zero risk of exposure. Schools need to be assured that the virus exists, and that while it is incumbent on schools to mitigate the spread of the virus and associated risks, it is not their responsibility to eliminate them.
Educating the rising generation is of paramount importance. The educational, psychosocial, and emotional needs of our children must supersede the need to go to sporting events, gyms, bars, and restaurants. It is unconscionable that we allow such choices in our communities if the cost is the in-person education of our children.
We cannot continue to sideline HEALTHY students from their access to the schools! If doing so now threatens school closure, it becomes increasingly problematic during those winter months of cold and flu season.
We sincerely need and appreciate your leadership, attention to, and determination for our children to receive the best educational opportunities afforded by in-person learning.