EDITORIAL: 14-day school COVID shutdown goes too far

Some districts might be able to handle a covid case better than others
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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

If we’ve learned one thing from the coronavirus crisis, it’s that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to preventing and spreading the disease.

It what’s behind the rationale for allowing school districts to develop individual reopening plans that suit their own specific circumstances.

In the event of someone testing positive for covid, some schools might be able to better protect students and staff from the disease than others, due to size of their buildings and classrooms, density of students, number of students being taught at home vs. in school, the physical safety measures the schools are able to install, and the individual district plans for knocking down the spread.

That’s why a blanket, one-size-fits-all proposal by New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers to immediately close any school building for 14 days in the event of a positive covid test is unwise and unnecessarily rigid.

Don’t get us wrong. We think schools need to be extra-cautious to ensure the safety of everyone.

But we also realize that as much as reopening schools is a complex endeavor that will have wide-ranging effects on staff, students and parents, so is shutting down schools after they’ve reopened. 

Parents will have to scramble for day care or to get days off from work. Some might have a child in a school that’s closed and a child in a school that’s allowed to remain open.

Schools will have to arrange for online learning for those students they send home and modify the online learning they’re doing with students who are staying home already. Transportation schedules and instruction will be disrupted.

Some districts might be able to manage a minor outbreak without shutting down an entire school. With more widespread and rapid testing and contact tracing, districts might be able to get away with only shutting down a portion of the school rather than an entire building — lessening the disruption to everyone. And they might not need a full 14 days before allowing some or all students back in if they’re able to isolate the virus to a smaller number of people and sanitize the effected areas.

With consultation with local and state health professionals, schools might be able to keep going, even if someone tests positive. Or they might need to do what the teachers union suggests and shut down for an extended period.

Obviously, again, the most important factor here is keeping everyone safe.

But there might be ways to accomplish that without imposing a blanket shutdown policy that doesn’t necessarily fit all districts.

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