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With Larry Ferlazzo

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Education Opinion

A Superintendent Explains Why Having to Decide About Fall Reopening Is the ‘Absolute Worst’

By Larry Ferlazzo — July 16, 2020 3 min read
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(Today’s post is a special edition of Classroom Q&A.)

I wouldn’t want to be a district superintendent right now.

If you want to know why, read in this guest post what Superintendent PJ Caposey is dealing with right now.

You might also be interested in his earlier post, A Superintendent’s Thoughts on Reopening Schools in the Fall.

I’m adding this piece to the more than 60 other columns compiled in School Closures & the Coronavirus Crisis.

“Mental gymnastics”

Dr. PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, author, and speaker who serves as the superintendent for Meridian CUSD 223 in northwest Illinois.

So, here is the situation as simply as I can state it as a school superintendent in Illinois right now. In my area, coronavirus cases are increasing. They are not, however, at a dangerous level. As such, we are doing everything we can to have in-person schooling as much as possible, but here is a quick example of the mental gymnastics we are currently all playing.

  • I am of the strong belief that the best place for kids is in schools. Those people who state that the flu is more dangerous (strictly in terms of mortality) than COVID for kids—particularly young students—are correct.

  • I have spent over $500,000 to attempt to make reopening schools as safe and effective as possible.

  • I know teachers did not sign up for working in an environment that may literally kill them, but neither did bartenders, grocery store employees, flight attendants, etc.

  • None of us knows the extent of the mental and psychological toll this entire pandemic will have on our students, and getting back to a semblance of normalcy cannot hurt.

  • Remote learning was not effective in the crisis format used, and even with significant improvements, will not be the same as in-person learning

  • A number of our constituents are sincerely convinced masks are the enemy and ineffective and are bold in showing their limited studies and memes to this accord.

All of the above is true, but so is. . .

  • I do not think being in classrooms is the safest or best place for my staff and I did not sign up for this job to weigh the cost-benefit analysis of someone’s (potential) life versus being an economic driver for the country and making sure kids can read and do math on time based on the arbitrary human-created guesswork we call standards.

  • Remote learning will be a decidedly better product the next time it is deployed, but yes, still not as good as in-person learning.

  • I already have people telling me they should receive a refund on their taxes if we are not teaching in-person this year.

  • Our liability insurance will not cover COVID-19 related claims—imagine the blowback when taxes go up as a result of this.

  • If we attempt to follow guidance by social distancing, not allowing a 5-year-old to hug their teacher, and eliminating PE, band, and choir as we know it (just to name a few), then we effectively extinguished many of the parts of school that kids and adults love.

  • I cannot do in-person school safely and by paying any attention to the guidelines provided if we are at full capacity.

  • 36 students tested positive 70 miles from my district after sports camps where safety precautions were in place.

  • An athletic director in Georgia died today from COVID.

  • I can reconcile that the death rate per recent CDC publications is around 0.5 percent, and that makes me feel better until I remember I have over 200 staff, and that would mean if we pass this around, that one of us may not be back in 2021.

I could go on and on, but this is why this decision is the absolute worst.

Thanks to PJ for contributing this guest post.

Good luck to him, and good luck to us all this fall.....

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.