Staff Columnist

Back to school in a pandemic

Siblings Alex (left) and Pyper Danly pose for a photo on the first day of school at Prairie View Elementary in Cedar Rap
Siblings Alex (left) and Pyper Danly pose for a photo on the first day of school at Prairie View Elementary in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. Alex was starting fourth grade, and Pyper first grade. College Community students in the A block started class on Monday, and the B block will begin Thursday. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

What I normally do with my kids the night before school starts is take them to a fancy restaurant where we clink glasses and share tips on surviving with new teachers and new friends. What I normally do the week before school starts is take my kids shopping, where we will try on shoes, fuss over pants, find the right notebook and then eat pancakes at Perkins and talk about our summer.

But what is normal no longer is an option in 2020 when a pandemic still leaks through our community.

In Iowa, where statewide positivity rate is 17.8 percent, schools are starting in person. This is happening because Gov. Kim Reynolds has mandated that schools meet more than 50 percent in-person. A mandate that directly contradicts expert advice, which recommends in-person education when there is a positivity rate of less than 5 percent.


"The real lesson this school year will be what exactly this careless American experiment will cost us."


As a result, two school districts are suing to begin online classes. Recent court rulings determined that the state, not districts, should decide whether kids attend schools in person. But if that’s the case, the state should have the additional responsibility of recording and reporting accurate data. But that isn’t happening.

Instead, Iowans are being required to send our kids to school in-person, in a COVID-19 hot spot, where our state is backdating positive tests, which artificially manipulations the positivity rate. And the state also is not collecting or reporting data on outbreaks in schools and there is no consistent approach to testing students.

In-person education is so important, not just for learning, but because for many children school is the only place they receive a meal and where abuse is noticed and reported. But strong arming parents into putting their children into school without accurate and transparent data and without choices, puts children and teachers at risk.

It didn’t have to be this way. We could have limited the spread of the virus, we could have stayed locked down, we could have canceled summer sports and kept restrictions on bars and restaurants. But we didn’t. We had all summer to plan and get ready, instead we held county fairs and rodeos and drank in bars.

Many parents in Iowa are opting to home-school instead of sending them back. But as a working single mom, I don’t have that luxury of choice. And choices aren’t really choices when they are reserved for those with money or two-parent households.

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So, here we are, strapping on backpacks and masks onto our children, sending them into schools with temperature checks at the door, social distancing games in the hallway and a lot of unanswered questions. COVID-19 cases are rising among children. Statistics seem to show that relatively few children are hospitalized from the virus, and many are asymptomatic spreaders. But what about the community? The teachers?

The night before school started, in lieu of our regular traditions, I made a fancy dinner, we clinked glasses and talked about masking, temperature checks and hand washing. We talked about new friends and social distance. And in the morning, I sent them to school, none of us really ready, but all of us without any real options.

The real lesson this school year will be what exactly this careless American experiment will cost us.

lyz.lenz@thegazette.com; 319-368-8513

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