Fully reopening schools next fall for in-person instruction should be the default plan, not merely a possibility.
On Monday night, however, Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara said he’s not certain schools will be back to normal for the 2021-22 calendar.
“I’m hoping … we get to a point where we can have some type of face-to-face instruction come August, depending on what the numbers are and the guidelines,” Jara said. One possibility, he said, was five-day-a-week classroom instruction for district students.
That may sound aggressive. Hybrid instruction for pre-K through third grade doesn’t start until next week. There are no public plans to bring older kids back to the classroom. Jara is even preventing students from participating in school sports.
But there is overwhelming evidence that it’s safe to reopen schools completely next fall. And plans can always change if circumstances do.
Start with the fact that it was safe to reopen schools last August. Campuses around the country and the world have been meeting in-person since then. Some private schools in Clark County have been meeting in-person the entire school year. Even California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who continues to lock down his state, sent his own kids back to a private school for in-person learning — last year.
If in-person learning caused massive virus outbreaks, you’d have heard about it by now. Even President Joe Biden’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that “in-person learning in schools has not been associated with substantial community transmission.” The best evidence suggests schools reflect what’s happening in the broader community instead of driving infections.
For some teachers — and especially many teachers unions — that’s not enough. They contend that even a small possibility of catching the coronavirus is sufficient justification to indefinitely delay school reopenings. But if your standard is no risk, schools can never reopen.
Life is about managing and mitigating risk, not pretending it can be eliminated entirely. Essential workers, including medical personnel and grocery clerks have done that. They have been working — in-person and with precautions — throughout this pandemic. Teachers interact with significantly fewer individuals than people in those professions do.
Finally, the existence of an effective vaccine should make the rest of this discussion moot. Education personnel were given priority for the vaccine precisely so they could return to the classroom. If the district isn’t going to do in-person instruction, those doses should have gone to the elderly or those who frequently interact with the public, such as clerks and casino employees.
The vaccine rollout has had hiccups. But by the end of July, the vaccine should be available to every adult who wants it.
This is incredible news. It’s time to start acting like it and preparing for the 2021-22 school year to be a normal school year.