Musical chairs and other bad ideas during a pandemic

Bruce Lear: The drive to throw the schoolhouse door open, even in coronavirus “hot zones,” has spawned some terrible ideas. -promoted by Laura Belin

In sports we call them unforced errors. In normal life we call them missteps. But in a pandemic, we call them deadly and foolish.

Unfortunately, the drive to throw the schoolhouse door open for business five days a week, eight hours a day, even in coronavirus “hot zones,” has spawned some terrible ideas in the name of trying to pretend, “I’m OK, You’re OK.”

Iowa is not OK.

To me, opening schools with few restrictions especially when the positivity rate is above 10 percent is a little like letting Rosanne Barr sing the national anthem, then acting shocked when it’s a dumpster fire.

I’m sure not an expert on a pandemics, but listening to experts and applying some common sense tells me these ideas don’t even pass a basic smell test.

Musical chairs

Some districts are trying to avoid quarantining students who are exposed or even asymptomatic by moving them around every fifteen minutes to avoid exposure to any one student. The difference between this practice and the children’s game is a desk isn’t removed after every round, no cute music, and it’s not fun. It’s deadly.

Not only does this interrupt and continuity of instruction in the classroom, it also won’t solve the problem of spread, because it assumes the virus has a watch and also that none of the asymptomatic students will ever sneeze or cough during the fifteen minutes.

Districts that are doing this are putting positive PR ahead of safety, which is both dangerous and dumb. Also, trying to avoid quarantine for this disease at all costs casts a veil of stigma like the leprosy colonies of old. We should be caring for those exposed, not criticizing.

The solution is quarantine students and employees who need the time, and then have them return to teach and learn. Playing musical chairs instead is playing with lives.

If a school district is adopting this practice, parents and educators need to call out the administrators. Since some educators have been warned not to post district practices on social media, it may have to come from concerned parents.

Editor’s note from Laura Belin: State Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati said during a recent webinar for Iowa school administrators and nurses that it would not be helpful to move students around classrooms every ten to fourteen minutes.

Quarantine on Your Own Time

Some districts have labeled teachers as “essential workers,” and so they are ordered to return to work even though they know they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, as long as they remain asymptomatic. They are being told to quarantine after school hours. Quarantining is a little like being pregnant. Either you are, or you aren’t.

School districts that want to stay with in person instruction for 180 days need to care about their educators.  Quarantining as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has advised is the best way to show the district cares, and the best way to stay open.

No Mask Mandate

If districts can tell students (and in some cases educators) what’s appropriate to wear in school, they can mandate face coverings. Masks may be uncomfortable and look weird, but they save lives, especially at school. Simply following Governor Kim Reynolds’ “strong suggestion” is like telling smokers, “I strongly suggest not smoking in the school building.” Many may see it differently and we would have smoke-filled rooms.

Teachers want to teach. Kids want to be with their friends at school. If we take some steps now, we can see both still happening in the dead of the Iowa winter, when we always need a glimmer of hope.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and recently retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for eleven years and a regional director for Iowa State Education Association the last 27 years until retiring. 

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  • Per the section under "Musical chairs"...

    …please, please tell us that it’s just a rumor and that real Iowa school districts aren’t actually really doing this. Please.

  • If this is happening, it’s ill-informed

    The guidance is that quarantine happens if we are within 6 feet of someone for a total of more than 15 minutes throughout the day, not just 15 minutes at a time. I think the more significant question is, why don’t kids in quarantine or teacher absence rates figure into the metrics of when a school can go to remote learning?