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Atlanta educator: It’s safe. Open school buildings.

A chain-link fence locks the gate at a closed schooled.  (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
A chain-link fence locks the gate at a closed schooled. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Credit: Richard Vogel

Credit: Richard Vogel

Paraprofessional cites CDC and other groups that say schools can safely welcome back students

Andrew Asemota is a paraprofessional with Atlanta Public Schools. In this guest column, Asemota says schools ought to open for face-to-face instruction. He says the best evidence thus far suggests that students and teachers would not be endangered.

This is a view that I am hearing from some parents, who believe children will be at greater risk from remote learning than from returning to school buildings, an opinion shared by the president, the U.S. secretary of education and many state governors.

At a press conference Friday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said, “I think kids need to be in a classroom. There is a safe way to do that. There are bad outcomes from not having kids in classes from a nutrition standpoint, child abuse, human trafficking and other things that go on.”

Kemp took aim at the media. “When newspapers and the media only write about one side of the story and they’re not writing about really the lack of risk - I mean everybody’s having risk. People that have been working in grocery stories through all this, people that have been in critical infrastructure jobs go to work every day with risk, our law enforcement...they face risk every day from the coronavirus. We have to be very smart about how we do this.”

“We’re going to have cases that break out in the schools either with personnel, or perhaps students, just like you do with a stomach bug or a flu or anything else. Our schools know how to handle those situations,” said Kemp, who is still leaving the decision to reopen to districts.

Georgia Schools Superintendent Richard Woods said, “The first day of school will be the first day school, you can expect hiccups, you can expect challenges. But I guarantee you, your kids will be safe, your teachers will be safe, and we will learn.” 

WIth that background, here is Asemota’s column:

By Andrew Asemota

I recently had a conversation with a fellow teacher where I expressed my displeasure with our new Atlanta superintendent’s decision to continue with “virtual learning” instead of bringing kids back to school.

My colleague tried to persuade me this was the best course of action, but I remained unconvinced.

To have an informed and nuanced view, we all should begin with a baseline of unassailable facts. It would be foolish to simply shout “It’s not safe” and then shame into silence those who try to convince us otherwise. After careful research, I have come to firmly support the reopening of schools.

Andrew Asemota with APS students; he supports a return to face-to-face school, saying the current evidence says it is safe.
Andrew Asemota with APS students; he supports a return to face-to-face school, saying the current evidence says it is safe.

I am not an epidemiologist, virologist, or any sort “-oligist” for that matter, so I will simply share a bit of information written by people smarter than me.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains schoolaged children are at very low risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found little to no evidence of children-to-adult transmission. A Dutch study and one done at the University of Vermont have shown that children have generally contracted the virus from adults.

Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics said it “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” The AAP went on to lay bare the substantial negative impact that continued school closures can have, saying that students are suffering “without the fundamental role of schools in providing academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, nutrition, physical activity, and mental health therapy.”

Those countering my argument will reference the stats such as "confirmed cases" and deaths as the primary basis of their argument against reopening. Recently, there have been several reported discrepancies about how that data is collected, thus bringing its credibility into question.

Finally, there is an assumption that wanting to get kids back in school means completely dismissing the health concerns of teachers, thus putting them on the “front lines.” This hyperbolic notion only serves to dismiss this as an issue not worthy of debate.

Call me naive but teachers are presented with the same golden opportunity to manifest their value tenfold to those who take them for granted, just like other “essential workers” during this pandemic. I think students should be back in school this fall, if anyone wants to change my mind, I’m all ears.

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