Your Views: In-person learning can be done safely

Your Views: In-person learning can be done safely

To the editor:

The number of desks that can fit into a classroom is a fundamental question, central to determining how many students can be safely accommodated at ACPS schools. I am amazed at how much controversy this simple question has engendered. The School Board seems to be stuck on five or six kids per classroom.

I understand that the current ACPS Virtual Plus partners have at least 10 students plus staff safely operating in ACPS classrooms right now. I wonder if even more is possible. The ACPS facilities team should be challenged to work creatively toward maximizing the capacity for in-person learning rather than focusing on all the reasons why it can’t be done.

Here are a few additional perspectives on this subject:

• Gov. Ralph Northam’s original guidance for reopening Virginia schools, dated June 2020, does not say that six-foot distancing is required. It says seating and desks should be at least six feet apart “when feasible,” and that cloth face coverings should be used when at least six feet physical distancing can’t be maintained.

• In July, the Virginia State Health Commissioner sent a letter to local superintendents to update the guidance for Virginia schools in order to “reflect the latest science, and the best public heath guidance and recommendations.” Here’s the relevant text:

“CDC advises that individuals maintain six feet of distance. WHO advises that schools maintain a distance of at least one meter (about three feet) between individuals. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics says spacing as close as three feet may have similar benefits, if students wear cloth face coverings and do not have symptoms of illness. Therefore, in school settings, schools are encouraged to aim for six feet of physical distance to the greatest extent possible. However, if six feet is not feasible, schools should implement a combination of face coverings and a minimum of three feet distance between individuals.”

• Joseph G. Allen and Sara Bleich of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Heath published an article on Nov. 12 in the Washington Post, “Why Three Feet of Social Distancing Should be Enough in Schools.”

Here’s a brief excerpt:

“The requirement for six feet of distancing has forced many schools to limit the number of students attending in person and thus has become a key factor keeping millions of kids home. That’s a mistake. … Six feet should be the default minimum for adults, but it’s past time we recognize that kids are different and the importance of schools is different, especially for the youngest learners. Three feet should be the default distance for schools.”

• The New York Times ran an article by Melissa Eddy on Oct. 29, 2020, “Why Europe is Keeping its Schools Open Despite New Lockdowns.” It made the following points:

–Europe’s latest wave of restrictions have largely avoided closing schools.

–The German conference of ministers of culture, stressed children’s right to an education. This must take highest priority in making all decisions about restrictive measures that need to be taken.

–In France, President Emmanuel Macron said that schools would be exempt from nationwide restrictions.

–Irish prime minister Micheal Martin said that while his country could no longer avoid restrictions, it was vital that schools remain open: “We cannot and will not allow our children and young people’s futures to be another victim of this disease.”

I believe strongly that the ACPS School Board is putting a generation of kids at an unacceptable educational and emotional risk by keeping them out of school. Please do not allow our children’s future to be another victim of this disease.

-William Barton, ACPS grandparent