The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted every corner of American life, but schools, and the adults and children who populate them, have faced challenges that are both unique and serious.
School leaders, teachers, support staffers, parents and students have all made monumental efforts to find stability since life as we knew it ended in March, even as they navigate rules and accommodations that were necessarily hatched on the fly. From virtual learning to half-and-half arrangements to in-school instruction under new, social distancing protocols, the one thing that’s been sorely missing is normalcy.
Returning to business as usual is urgent for all of us, but especially for our children. That’s why Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley has asked the state to prioritize teachers and other school workers as it devises a plan for how to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines that are just coming online. And it’s why we think doing so is the right move.
Health care workers and residents of nursing homes are first in line, as they should be. Beyond that, it’s not exactly clear how different groups will be ranked. Next up, the Centers for Disease Control has suggested, should be essential workers, people with underlying medical conditions and those 65 and older. In his letter to state Health Secretary Courtney Phillips, Brumley argued that roughly 166,000 employees at Louisiana’s day care centers, pre-K programs and K-12 schools fit the definition of essential front-line workers.
Protecting their safety so that normal schedules can resume would have far-reaching benefits. It would alleviate the burden on parents struggling to supervise their children’s school day from home, sometimes to the detriment of their own jobs. It would address some of the disparities that have been exacerbated by makeshift arrangements, which have caused particular hardship for students without reliable internet access or quiet spaces for online learning, those with difficult home situations or who rely on schools for food and social services, and those whose special needs make distance education difficult.
There are advantages to getting everyone back into their regular routines even for students who are doing relatively well under current restrictions. We don’t yet know the full, long-term impact that this strange period will have on children — that will likely be studied for years to come — but surely there are enough educational, social and mental health concerns at play to make returning to normal a front-burner priority.
As Brumley put it in his letter, "although schools have made noble accommodations in terms of providing virtual instruction, there simply is no replacement for in-person instruction…It is in the best interest of the physical, emotional and mental well-being of most students to engage and interact with their peers in person.”
We agree, and think that’s a good enough reason for the state to grant the request.