Opening Schools Amid a Global Pandemic: Plan for a Marathon Not a Sprint

by on March 8, 2021 · 5 comments

in Education, Health, Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Colleen O’Connor

Pace yourselves and brace yourselves. The pandemic is not going away anytime soon.

Another surge is coming.  Look to Europe’s opening/closing and infecting scenario, caused by  a new COVID variant, soon to be dominant here.

Germany, a disciplined country, announced they are in the middle of a “third wave.”  Also, in the “third wave,” is the Netherlands, where infection cases rose by nearly 19 per cent over the past seven days.  Add Stockholm to the list, with a 27 per cent rise in case numbers in recent weeks; again, all due to the new mutation.

So, candor is required.  Faced with the latest wave, amid a newer, more efficient strain, the current attempts at mandatory school re-openings (with financial incentives) are near reckless.

One size does cannot and should not fit all students, teachers, schools, all districts or all states.

There are not enough vaccines.  Not enough “safe schools” with proper ventilation, open spaces, or even teachers and parents willing to take the risks. The “neglected classroom” has been decades in the making.

Look at the reality.  There are not enough vaccines for teachers or school personnel.  Not enough safe spaces, outdoor areas, or well-ventilated classrooms for students.  Add to that special needs; little or no computer access in many homes; and the multiplier effects that occur in the higher grades.

California suffers from a failure of imagination.  The legislature’s signature solution?  Money.

California’s proposition to pay school districts willing to open asap is just that, a “proposition,” in the tawdry sense of the term.  Same with Newsom’s push to open up ball parks for the baseball season.  “Third Wave” not going to the hotdog stand this year?

Think again.  Copy the marathon.  As one scientist explained, “We are not chasing the tiger.  We are riding it.”  And about to fall off!

As with a marathon, where the best trained, best equipped and fastest runners are positioned in the front of the pack, let’s start there.

Start with the schools, classrooms, teachers, parents and students that fit that description.

And, with all others, start with the lowest grades first.  One size does not fit all.  Roll outs by grade level can and should be gradual.

“Better, fairer, smarter.”

And go local, local, local.  Ask each district to ask each kindergarten and first-grade teacher, their students and their parents for permissions to return to the classroom; once their child’s teacher is vaccinated.

Then, the principal can other determinations on which staff needs to return.  Or even ask retired teachers (who probably have received their vaccines) to step into the fray.  Surely, we can match the elders of Japan who walked into the radiation ruins of the Fukushima nuclear plant to help their country.

Start with those willing to volunteer.

Next, determine the success, failure, and other obstacles encountered.   Fix them and move on to Grades 2-4.  Roll out the classes just as a marathon rolls out the waves of runners.  Those ready, get set, go.

No one is discounting the difficulty of a return to old-fashioned, in-person teaching and the daytime cop function of schools.  Some school board members, caught on “hot-mic” saying that the parents “just want their babysitters back,” were not wrong.  Just tactless.

But, those same parents, one would hope, would also not want their child’s put at risk.  And the State and school districts would certainly want to avoid all unnecessary liability claims.

And what is the rush?  Do a rollout.  Adjust and rollout again.  Waves.

Who says the school calendar is fixed in stone?  Why can’t there be make up months, like east coast “snow days?”  Nothing sacred about ending the school year in time for a summer vacation.  Already, many schools have rolling sessions.

And finally, studies have been conducted that prove almost all of the knowledge required from a traditional, K-12 academics can be learned in under 9 months, if the student is willing!  Socialization if another issue.

Lots more money is coming from the federal COVID relief bill.  Spend it wisely. Not just as firehose of confetti.

Let’s re-imagine a marathon amid this global pandemic.  Not a sprint to the next election or a chance to beat back a recall threat.






{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Gravitas March 8, 2021 at 11:11 am

And then there is this alarming new study on the COVID variant! Moderna and Pfizer WAY LESS effective.


Peter from South O March 8, 2021 at 1:23 pm

Less efficacious without tweaking . . . that’s the beauty of MRNA based vaccines. Moderna is already doing trials of a booster for the three predominant variants.
But the existing series is still a wonderful alternative to being totally unprotected against a deadly disease.
Let’s keep it in perspective: the Shingles vaccine is just 51% effective.


Frank Gormlie March 8, 2021 at 12:48 pm

Today’s U-T:
Local researchers say formulas can be updated to match mutations

From South Africa to Brazil to California, the list of locations linked to new strains of the co-ronavirus is growing — and so are concerns that viral variants could undo the vaccine rollout.
The worries come at a time when most San Diegans still haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine. That could change by the end May, when President Joe Biden says there will be enough vaccine for all adults in the U.S. But by then, new and faster-spreading coronavirus strains will likely account for nearly all cases.
Does that mean this whole effort is for naught?
Not according to local researchers with a deep understanding of viruses and the immune system. They say there’s ample evidence that current vaccines work well against several of the well-known variants, and that immunity is never an all-or-nothing affair.
Manufacturers and federal regulators have signaled that updating current vaccines to keep pace with new strains will be relatively straightforward. Some of that work is already happening.


Gravitas March 9, 2021 at 8:51 am

And Now, Michael, Osterholm (right about waves #1,#2) has a new prediction:” More virulent variants, particularly B.1.1.7 first identified in the UK, will likely kick off a surge in cases and deaths in the U.S. in a matter of weeks—just as most states lift restrictions.”
From The recent Atlantic magazine:
“Osterholm, 67, is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and has spent the past four decades studying epidemics, but he became nationally famous a year ago for his stark predictions during the first shocking wave of the pandemic in the U.S.
“In April, [he] said, ‘These are just the foothills. We haven’t even gotten to the mountains yet—and there are big ones coming,’” he recalls. “People, of course, dismissed that as just hyperbole and just scary. Well, you saw what happened.”
All came true. Now warning about coming wave!


sealintheSelkirks March 16, 2021 at 5:40 pm

I’m just catching up after 10 days of disconnected internet service, and being as it’s 8 days after this was posted I’m just today reading it…and everything has shifted again and for the worse it seems. The 2 British, 1 Brazilian, and the South African variants are screaming across the planet, California doctors came out saying the state has its own variant (how lucky!), and Italy just declared the ‘3rd Wave’ has arrived as they’re looking at disaster.

We’ve got five known that are all highly more infectious than last year’s original strain. Oops.

Texas declared their state mask free zones as did I think Georgia and Alabama. The Lone Star State (they wish) had a grand total of 6% of its population vaccinated when they decided this. I wonder how that’s gonna work out? Probably about as well as the ice storm heating crisis did but for the fossil fuel corporations it was declared a bonanza while people burned their furniture to keep warm…

Up here in WA State the restaurant parking lots were full of vehicles when I drove down to the city to pick up two sewing machines in for repair. Twice down to Spokane in one week (now 6 trips since Feb 2020) but I took different routes and I was shocked at just how many businesses were empty storefronts. Entire strip malls are vacant, signs in windows everywhere.

We’re in Phase II re-opening but the state guidelines aren’t exactly enforced. In the local little towns around here many businesses have signs on their doors about masking up but more than half the customers are NOT in masks and not asked to. Even at ACE Hardware two of the employees had them under their noses effectively rendering them completely useless. I looked at the woman behind the register and asked her if she knew where they stuck the swab to test for COVID and got a snarly face in reply. Too bad, she was risking MY health while I wear one for HER health.

Schools are partially open, and one woman I know who is a head secretary in a local school told me she refuses to get flu vaccines and will not take the Covid shot. Oh, did I mention she doesn’t wear a mask and yes the school is partially open with students doing part-time. A local pizza place where they’re selling my new book behind the counter painted their windows with cute flowers and bees and butterflies which hides the lack of mask wearing inside including by the employees. I see lack of masks everywhere when I go off the property…

Will these variants really slam down and if so just how bad is life going to get? Your guess, my guess, the infectious disease experts guesses, nobody knows but somehow I don’t think this is gonna work out real well with half the US adult population declaring they won’t get the shots anyway. But then I’m not all that trusting of our species intelligence due to reading far too much history. A really good long look doesn’t exactly give rise to boundless optimism, ya know?

So you all be as careful as you can. Remember to not listen to ignorant people.



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