Sarah DeVries
Are schools ready for returning students? Are schools ready for returning students?

As delta rips through the country, perhaps back-to-school can wait

The president's assurances that 'nothing bad will happen at all' are far from comforting

It’s August! August is my birthday month. For the first few years of my schooling, it represented pool parties and the last sweet sips of summer before the school year officially began.

For the past couple of years, however, August has been markedly tenser for reasons I don’t need to restate. As the new delta variant continues to spread without yet an end in sight, the new school year looms large ahead of us with a host of problems and unknowns.

Problems include:

  1. The permanent closings of many private schools in every state which, in the absence of government funds, did not survive. This means that fewer schools are available to accommodate a growing population of children needing a school, not to mention the plenty of personal space within said school needed for safety reasons;
  2. Vandalized, abandoned schools that do not have the funds to replace needed materials and are not ready to receive students;
  3. Public schools that were quite crowded before the pandemic, with their abilities to accommodate an influx of ex-private school students unspecified (I’m not optimistic);
  4. Many children who have simply left the school system.

Then, the big unknowns:

  1. When and how the delta variant will peter out;
  2. The extent to which children will suffer if and when they contract the delta variant;
  3. If teachers and school personnel who don’t accept the vaccine will be allowed to work;
  4. When vaccines for children will become available and whether or not students will be obliged to get them (as they are with other vaccines) in order to be in the classroom;
  5. At what point we’ll have enough space across public and private schools to accommodate children safely: other countries have shown how to do it, and a big piece of the puzzle is keeping them a certain amount of distance away from each other in ventilated areas. Does our current physical infrastructure make that possible?

The president, after not having set forth much of a plan regarding education during the past year and a half, has now said that “there are no risks” and has set August 30 as the day that all students should return to school. Though he’s cited a UNICEF study as evidence for the harm done to children by not being in school, I hesitate to get behind the effort at this particular moment in the pandemic, when cases have been increasing exponentially, mostly in younger unvaccinated people.

It’s also hard to cut through the noise when emotions are so high. Some of those high emotions are directed by the president himself, who insists that messages to be cautious about school openings are part of a “media conspiracy orchestrated by the opposition” — which is not the solid argument he thinks it is.

I would love to believe that sending our children back to school right now is absolutely the right decision. But where we are at this particular point in the pandemic — as well as our convoluted response to pretty much everything regarding it — gives me pause. After writing in favor of returning to the classroom, under our current circumstances I don’t feel so strongly.

Apparently, neither do approximately 58% of other people, according to El Financiero. But whether we feel sure about it or not, there are people that need childcare so that they can work; there are children that need a place to go to learn and to interact with others in a socially safe environment. I do not criticize anyone for sending their children to school or daycare because being able to do that is a built-in necessity of our modern society that few have the privilege to live without.

And if we want to keep advancing as a country, we can’t simply fail to educate our children indefinitely. Even the most privileged children have missed out on the benefits of schooling during this past year and half; even consistent online schooling in a beautiful house with parental support is not good enough.

But I would argue that, for those who are able, we should at least wait until this delta surge runs its course. Perhaps in the meantime we could focus on getting our schools’ physical infrastructure in place for when they do go back.

While I tend to roll my eyes at the many messages from panicked parents in WhatsApp groups equating the idea of sending one’s children back to school with being selfish and not caring if kids die, all those problems and unknowns I listed above have stopped me on the track I was hiking down for most of the previous year.

I feel unsure, and my gut now tells me to wait until things have calmed down at least a bit; promises from the president that “nothing bad will happen at all,” which is not something anyone can promise, make me even more nervous.

We’re still taking forever to vaccinate, and plenty of people are also refusing the vaccine. I wrote about that last week and received quite a few negative emails in response.

(If that was you, by the way, I don’t respond to emails calling me an idiot for “falling for CDC lies.” And to the guy who wrote me a 4,000-word thesis — thank you, but I’m a single mom with about five low-paid, strung-together gigs just trying to survive month to month; I just don’t have time to write a counter-thesis).

One guy — they were all guys, actually; they usually are — even told me that he’d never get the vaccine, even if Covid-19 were “100% lethal” because he was … against tyranny?

Whatever the reasons, and however valid or invalid they are, it’s clear to me that we’re not going to have enough people willingly participate in vaccination to get the herd immunity that would get us through this.

The pandemic is raging. It’s targeting younger people faster. Vaccines are being distributed much too slowly to a high-density population in the cultural habit of standing very close to one another at all times, and a sizable portion of the population is refusing to do their part.

I guess it’s time to hunker down for a little longer, people. After all this, what’s a little more misery?

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com and her Patreon page.

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