To the editor:
With two children enrolled in Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, I have been impressed with how our schools have handled the uncertainty of the pandemic. The speed at which laptops were distributed, internet access was made available to those who needed it and supplies were provided for free really helped families during a scary situation.
I also appreciated the transparency around reopening, with clear safety metrics defined and a weekly look at how our state and city were trending. It was refreshing to see officials evaluate the science and make decisions based on hard evidence.
Given the surge of infection and death rates earlier this year, I was disappointed by the sudden decision in February to set a firm date for reopening. It was clear that this decision was made based solely on the fact that it had been exactly a year since schools had closed.
Still, based on information provided to families regarding the safety measures in place, we opted to let our children return to the classroom. From drop-off procedures, in-class distancing, even the decision to keep schooling virtual the week following spring break, I have not yet regretted that decision.
Until this week.
Late Monday, buried some six paragraphs in, we were informed via email that the School Board had voted the previous week to reduce social distancing from six feet to three feet. This was done despite several assurances over the last month that ACPS would maintain distancing at six feet for everyone’s safety.
That included a video where Dr. Stephen Haering, director of the Alexandria Health Department, affirmed that “[m ost]of the data is showing that six feet of distance is the safest,” calling this distance the “gold standard,” as well as an email from ACPS the previous week telling parents that “ACPS is maintaining six feet of physical distancing through the remainder of the school year.”
This decision by the School Board is reckless and puts students, faculty and our community at greater risk. At a time when experts agree we’re entering a fourth wave of the virus, reducing social distance in order to cram more children into the classroom is, quite frankly, dangerous. This is especially true given that many states, including Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska and Massachusetts are currently experiencing spikes among children directly linked to school reopening.
And that’s not to mention the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being put on hold, likely further extending the timeline for achieving mass immunity from the virus.
I don’t know if we will continue to send our kids in person. They have enjoyed being on-site and seeing friends, but this decision puts them, their peers and their teachers at risk. I wish the School Board actually advocated for the safety of their faculty and their students, instead of bowing down to pressure from parents who care less about the risk to our community than they do about getting back to a feeling of normal.
I recognize the privilege we have in this decision. My wife is a stay-at-home mom, and I can work from home to support our family. But not everyone has that same privilege and may not have the luxury of pulling their children out of concern for their safety.
I wish that, when the School Board decided to “give families a choice,” they thought about those families as well.
-Andy Behr, Alexandria