It’s Not About The Kids

Should our children get back to school and resume their normal activities this fall, despite the presence of COVID-19?

Schools are in a tough spot.

How do we best serve our students while dealing with teachers and staff who are uncomfortable returning to the classroom? How do we restart school safely for everyone concerned? How do we make wise decisions with imperfect information?

How do we prioritize our students (and parents) while navigating the school board rules and local government mandates? And, do we allow parents any input in the decision-making process about their own children?

How are politics, local or national, influencing when or if we resume school? How will we deal with all the newest unknowns? What if things get worse? What if we wait just a little longer? What if we wait too long?

Parents are frustrated.

Will virtual learning be effective? Will my children thrive? What about their mental health? How will remote classes interfere with my work schedule? Who will watch my kids at home? Why haven’t we heard anything yet? When will real school return? Will it be safe? Will they have sports? Who’s looking out for my kid’s best interests? What if they just keep delaying? What’s at stake for my family? Is it this bad everywhere?

As a coach to entrepreneurs and their families for the last 29 years, I am in the business of helping my clients think about where they are headed and the best way to get there.

Many of my long-term clients use me as a sounding board to shake up their thinking, challenge their assumptions and discover their blindspots.

And, if you’re willing, that’s what I want to do for you in this post. I want to stretch and provoke your thinking for the purpose of helping your kids reach their full potential.

As with my clients, my job is not to change your mind but to sharpen your mind. If you have children or grandchildren, in school or college, this message applies to you.

Our kids need to get back into school, real school.

What’s driving this assertion?

I have been a child.

I am a parent.

I have examined the data.

I am applying common sense.

I also have education in my blood. Both of my grandmothers were teachers. One of my grandfathers was a junior high principal and the other was a teaching pastor. I even married a school teacher.

If you think it’s a good idea to keep kids at home learning virtually, I appreciate that point of view.

However, I strongly disagree.

Kids are not at serious risk with COVID-19. They need to get back in school.

In fact, with only basic precautions and slight modifications, the entirety of the school experience can safely resume for kids across the nation.

But, in many school districts, classes will remain online only. In other zip codes, public and independent schools will partially resume with expensive and draconian “safety” measures making them hardly recognizable compared to just six months ago.

Masks, plastic shields, one-way lines, static “bubble classrooms” for the entire day, no cafeteria, limited sports. You get the picture, right?

Interestingly, youth summer sports leagues, such as baseball, soccer, and lacrosse resumed in many areas in late May and early June. With very minimal precautions (temperature taking and most coaches wearing masks) young people have successfully resumed training and competition without disaster.

Untethered to academic institutions, these organizations chose to err on the side of normalcy for the sake of the kids.

They made prudent decisions.

Evidence is now mounting that children are not vectors for COVID-19 which helps explain the healthy success of youth summer sports programs. The most important evidence regarding pediatric transmission comes from Iceland, and their study published in NEJM. The senior author concluded that, 

“Even if children do get infected, they are less likely to transmit the disease to others than adults. We have not found a single instance of a child infecting parents.”

The genetic analysis in this study shows that children must be less likely to transmit the virus than adults.

Based on extensive contact tracing, the Ministry of Health in the Netherlands found almost no disease spread by infected patients 20 and under at all.

In Ireland, researchers compared infected children with infected adults. Despite identifying a total of 722 contacts for the infected children, the study found not a single instance of an infected child passing on the virus.

Additional data from France, Australia, Denmark, and other countries support the key finding that children play a reduced role in Coronavirus transmission.

To the contrary, the evidence points to adult-to-adult transmissions of COVID being the most likely cause of spread even within households.This is really good news for getting kids back to school and normal activities.

Children need in-person learning because the educational experience is about much more than simply absorbing subject matter in the classroom. The school years are about the overall growth and development of the child.

This includes social engagement, sports, the arts, academic curricula, and much more. Without in-room, real-life learning, your kids will not thrive as they ordinarily would.

If learning specific lessons is the main reason for going to school, then our older children have certainly wasted a lot of time all those years in the curricular and extra-curricular activities that previously kept them engaged, happy and thriving until about 6PM each day.

According to CDC data, adolescents are only at minimal risk of serious COVID infection, even less risk, almost zero risk, for fatality. This has been known for some time, and I previously wrote about this reality in another post in early June (The Challenge of a Nation).

Does this mean that no young person will contract and die from the virus? Unfortunately, it does not. And each death is tragic and heartbreaking, as are the far more common ways that children die every year.

These outlier COVID cases tend to involve young people with underlying conditions, particularly obesity and elevated inflammatory markers, and even so, the cases are extremely rare. In fact, they are far more rare than adolescent deaths from the flu this year.

And, I won’t even get into the risk of suicide. But, we should not, and cannot, dismiss the impact indefinite lockdowns and disruptions are having on the mental health of children and young adults.

We must do our best to reduce the threat to the most vulnerable amongst us while simultaneously moving forward with our jobs, our lives, and yes, with real school.

If the perfect safety (of everyone) is the standard, we will never return to normalcy. We cannot guarantee the safety of anyone. We never have been able to promise such a thing. We can only take reasonable steps to keep students, teachers, and staff safe.

If some children have medical conditions that make attending live classes truly unsafe, then those kids should attend virtually.

The big “story” being promoted, though, is that we have to keep the kids safe. If this is the reason schools don’t return to normal, you should vigorously object because it is misleading at best. It cannot be backed up by science.

If schools won’t open because teachers are too fearful to interact with children in the classroom, that is a fair concern. It should be noted however, that teaching is a very young profession in the United States with half of the teachers being under forty years old and another quarter younger than thirty.

These teachers are at very little risk of serious COVID infection. Overall, 90% of teachers are younger than age sixty, the age above which a greater (but still very small) percentage of infections become serious.

And, if the teachers practice “safe-teaching” with CDC approved PPE just as for our “essential workers” in other government-run entities – masks, gloves, hand-washing and sanitizing, etc., then the risks can be reduced even further.

This is the same advice the experts are telling the rest of us to follow.

Either it works for teachers in classrooms just as it works for us fulfilling our daily responsibilities, like working and grocery shopping, or it does not.

Outside of teachers who may be especially vulnerable because of a health condition, teachers who contract COVID-19, like the rest of us, are expected to recover as they do with influenza, especially given the young age of most of our teaching population.

We all need to remind ourselves that 80% of those who become infected with this virus will only have mild to moderate symptoms, if any at all.

Today, unfortunately, our options for returning to normal life have been effectively hijacked by the loudest voices with the most irrational fears. Nonstop news stories with sensational headlines and distorted reporting only make things worse.

Media outlets consistently deliver the sloppy truth, but not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. For example, the fact that the average age of COVID death is 80 years is grossly under-reported. The same is true with the fact that 40% of Coronavirus deaths have occurred in nursing homes. This is staggering to consider.

On the other hand, the exceedingly rare cases of “otherwise healthy” individuals dying of Coronavirus is highlighted. Even more egregious are the sad, but infrequent stories of young COVID victims being presented without informing viewers of very relevant underlying conditions such as cancer, obesity, and auto-immune disorders.

This kind of fear-mongering is disheartening to observe. The fact that one has to dig and research in order to get the entire truth is unnerving and stirs up unnecessary fears and anxiety.

Overall, more than 99.0% of those infected will recover. The CDC now estimates that less than 1% (0.65%) of people infected with Covid-19 will not survive. This recovery rate (99.35%) includes those with significant underlying health conditions as well as those over 80 years old.

If these facts still don’t make the teachers feel safe, why not let those teachers who aren’t comfortable teach from home? Just reverse the virtual learning model. Let the kids come to class with a proctor or sub and the teacher can deliver his or her lesson from home. Or, better yet, let the stay at home teachers work with the stay at home kids.

If children will be coming home to “medically fragile” parents, grandparents or other family members, extra precautions can be implemented in those situations. If it is not feasible to protect the vulnerable family member, then that child may need to continue with the virtual experience.

In addition to the vital learning and socialization that occurs in classrooms, lunchrooms, and ball fields, kids need to get out of the house and away from mom and dad. I am not kidding either. This is really healthy for all sorts of reasons. And, the same goes for the parents as well.

So what is the goal of our academic leaders?

Is the goal to have zero tolerance for a positive infection at your school or is the goal to protect the most vulnerable? As a parent, we can discern our school’s priorities by observing their decision-making.

Protecting the vulnerable and preventing infections are two completely different objectives. They demand completely different plans. Keeping everyone safe, or doing no harm, is not practical or sustainable, and how would such a standard even be measured? How is “safe” or “harm” being defined? Your school should answers these questions.

Protecting the most vulnerable is one goal. Preventing additional infections is another goal. One is focused and achievable. The other is broad and unworkable.

If grownups are the reason kids can’t get back to regular life, then the academic leaders need to produce evidence to support such a disruptive conclusion.

Let’s be transparent on this point. Don’t blame the potential void of school, sports, and normal childhood experiences on the safety of the kids. It is simply not a defensible argument.

And suggesting otherwise is provoking all sorts of distress and confusion in communities across the nation. Furthermore, evidence that children are so called, “super-spreaders” of Coronavirus does not exist. To reiterate, growing evidence supports exactly the opposite conclusion.

As of this writing, there is no data available suggesting that reopening schools is dangerous to kids or the surrounding community. There is also no research to suggest it is 100% “safe.” But, were schools perfectly safe before COVID-19?

Across the globe, from South Africa to Finland and Japan, schools are opening, some without any restrictions, and the results so far are very encouraging. For example, Austria has reopened and dropped the masks after seeing little spread within the schools. In Canada, Norway, Sweden, and the UK, mask-wearing is optional.

Parent to parent, I challenge you to find any data or science to justify keeping kids from returning to their normal actives this fall. Pay attention to the constant media and academic refrain. It is all about “keeping the students safe.” You should be highly skeptical of this claim.

Moreover, keeping every student, teacher, and staffer “safe” is unreasonable and impractical. There always will be risks. There always have been.

After all, when, exactly, will things be “safe” again?

And, who is in charge of defining what “safe” really means? Has anyone answered that basic question? Learn how “safe” will be defined in your school or district, and who will make that determination…and what will be the indicators, or “red flags” that would change that assessment a month later.

Even with a flu vaccine, for example, over 45,000 people die of influenza each year, including 179 children in the 2018/2019 flu season. Are your children safe from the flu? This flu season alone, four times as many kids have died from the regular flu than from COVID-19.

Coronavirus has been devastating to friends and family who have lost loved ones. It has been a heavy burden on health care workers who served selflessly to bring about healing. It has been really tough on our children. It has crushed our previously robust economy, destroyed jobs, and ruined small businesses across the nation. It has been brutal.

Let’s not make things even worse by locking our kids (and subsequently many parents) down in what is largely a very inadequate substitute for the live campus and classroom experience.

Moreover, in many lower income communities, students will miss out on much needed meals as well as hearing and vision assessments. Those with learning disabilities will forfeit the essential structure and support of a regular school day.

Child abuse, which has increased during the shutdown, will continue to go undetected. And young adults living in troubled neighborhoods will face additional threats and dangers with idle time on their hands.

Virtual schooling leaves a lot to be desired, especially when your child’s growth and development is at stake. It may work for some students, but it should not be mandated for all. If you don’t believe me, just sit in on one of your child’s remote classes.

Our children deserve better, and they are counting on you.

Bombarded with contradictory information and surrounded by hysteria, it can be tempting to just wait and see what happens next.

It is confusing when information and recommendations change on a week to week or even day to day basis? Who can you believe? Who can you trust?

Perhaps, at this point, some simple common sense will prove more valuable than evaluating fluctuating data points and competing “experts”?

If our children our prioritized, schools will reopen and activities will resume.

More than ever, your children need you to advocate for them right now.

It’s easy to be lulled into a state of passivity and simply do as you are told and go with the flow. But what we tolerate today eventually becomes accepted as the new normal.

Don’t let this happen.

Stand up. Speak out. Recruit others who are like-minded.

Make your voices heard.

The risk TO kids of serious infection is extremely low. The risk FROM kids transmitting infection to parents and other adults is also low.

But, without real school and after school activities, our kids will suffer. Parents will suffer. Employers will suffer. Workers will suffer. Our nation will suffer.

The unintended consequences will be steep.

The risks of reopening schools are uncertain; the harm of keeping children quarantined at home is clear.

Keeping kids locked down is not keeping them safe. It is harming them.

We can’t let this happen.

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