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Should schools reopen this fall?

There is a great debate raging across America and Alabama right now. Should schools reopen? If so, how and when?

School leaders are under a lot of pressure right now. Schools have been out of session approaching five months. It is time for schools to start reopening for the new school year.

Any other time, parents and children would be scrambling to buy new clothes and school supplies. Administrators would be in the final stages of getting schools ready to open and registering students for the upcoming school year. Teachers would be planning lessons and getting their classrooms ready.

This year, however, everyone seems to be in somewhat of a holding pattern.

School start dates have changed. School systems are scrambling to come up with plans to deal with the coronavirus. Schools are basically on their own to come up with how to handle myriad issues related to the ongoing pandemic.

Everyone has an opinion about how they think schools should start back. There are a lot of people fearful of what could possibly happen. There are people who are dismissive of any fears. Almost everyone’s perspective is legitimate because no one has ever been in this situation.

July 6, President Donald Trump began to pressure governors and school leaders to reopen schools fully and on time. He threatened to not give money to schools that don’t reopen.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump said, “We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everyone else to open the schools – get them open. It’s very important for our country. It’s very important for the well-being of the students and the parents.”

Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey submitted a plan for the reopening of Alabama schools a week ago. Gov. Kay Ivey reviewed the plan with the state board of education and asked Mackey to consider revising the plan. According to a report by ABC 33/40, Ivey wants Mackey to consider a Senate plan to build nursing stations, hire 300 nurses and obtain technology to take temperatures daily.

Monday Ivey announced she is spending $170 million to help enhance the coronavirus readiness of Alabama public schools. These funds will come from the federal government CARES Act, with $70 million going to the State Department of Education’s Health and Wellness Grant Program and $100 million going toward the Educational Remote Learning Devices Grant Program.
“These funds will allow local schools to be flexible to meet the unique needs of their students while keeping them as safe as possible,” said Ivey.

In Alabama, Selma City Schools is starting online only. Mobile County Schools pushed their school start date back to Sept. 1 and will be online only for the first nine weeks. Here, the Franklin County Schools system moved our start date back to Aug. 20 and will give students a choice to come to school in person or work remotely at home.

According to Dr. Alex Foster, a pediatrician and epidemiologist, partially reopening schools will affect the poorest kids the most, as they might not have computers or internet access. He also said it will affect the income of those families because their parents will not be able to go back to work.

Not reopening schools fully also hurts families with children with special needs who haven’t been getting the services their children need.

Many of our students rely on the schools for a quality breakfast and lunch five days a week.

On the flip side of the argument, the coronavirus pandemic is not slowing down; it is actually getting worse in Alabama. According to statistics from the Alabama Department of Public Health, cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise.

Currently, 13 percent of all tests are positive for COVID-19. There are more than 900 people in the state hospitalized right now because of this disease, and almost 1,300 people in Alabama have died.

According to a South Korean study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, older children are more likely to spread the coronavirus than younger children. For patients ages 1019, 18.6 percent tested positive within 10 days of the initial case. According to NPR.org, a Missouri camp for 1318year-olds had to be shut down after 82 cases were linked to it.

Reopening our schools is not an easy decision for anyone – and anyone who thinks it is needs to spend a day in the shoes of the people who are having to make these critical decisions.

The best thing we all can do is pray for our leaders that they are guided by what is in the best interest of both students and adults in our schools.

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