Staff Columnist

Our sophomore canary flies into the COVID-19 mine

Ella and Scuttle on the first day of third grade, moments before he dragged her across the lawn.
Ella and Scuttle on the first day of third grade, moments before he dragged her across the lawn.

Years ago, on the first day of school for my daughter Ella, she was holding our dog Scuttle’s leash when a rabbit caught his attention. He bolted across the yard, dragging our little girl across the wet grass. Welcome to second grade.

It was her most dramatic first day of school. That is until this week, when she goes back to class at Linn-Mar High School during a rapidly spreading pandemic.

Our governor has ordered it, holding the leash, so to speak. Schools must provide in-person instruction in at least 50 percent of core subjects. Districts can switch to online instruction only if local coronavirus testing hits 15 percent positivity, triple what the CDC recommends for reopening schools. Gov. Kim Reynolds said this past week she set a higher bar mainly for rural school districts who could hit a lower threshold with few cases.

We’re sending our daughter back to a high school with 2,100 students. Reynolds should have left us alone and let local officials here make decisions on how best to return to learn. She could just pretend it’s a Republican fundraiser or a Trump rally.

But Ella wants to go back, and we want her to go. We want her back in the classroom, at least until that no longer looks smart. Our canary is headed to the COVID-19 mine. We’re in the same boat with parents across Iowa and the nation.

She’ll have all of her school supplies, masks, hand sanitizer, a new Trapper Keep Away, a student organizer that unfolds into a massive germ shield. Sorry, we got the last one. Still looking for a haz-mat suit in school colors.

Ella says she’s nervous. She’s seen what’s happening at other schools that opened and quickly recorded positive cases. Linn-Mar’s own football team was placed in quarantine this past week, presumably because of exposure to coronavirus.


Ella runs cross country and has been practicing and competing in meets with the varsity team, which is ranked No. 1 in Class 4A. She desperately does not want to be the one who throws such a talented team into quarantine.

The team works out together but breaks ranks every 15 minutes to limit exposure and avoid having to quarantine if a teammate is exposed.

Her marching band practices six feet apart. She went to show choir camp in her bedroom, dancing in front of a laptop on a Zoom video conference. Neither group will enter contests.

So she knows this is going to be very, very different.

Ella will go to classes two or three days each week. She’ll have less “passing time” to get to class in one-way only hallways. She can leave campus between classes, even though she’s only a sophomore.

There will be free grab-and-go lunches provided by the USDA, with an emphasis on “go.” Go home, go outside or go sit alone in the cafeteria or common area. All tables are tables for one.

Ironically, for all the emphasis placed on the psychological value of returning to class, restrictions may still leave kids feeling anxious and isolated. Administrators, teachers and staff deserve thanks for doing all they can to create a safe and healthy learning environment.

But is that even possible in an uncontrolled pandemic? All signs point to no. But we’re going to roll the dice and hope for the best. We didn’t control the virus in the spring, so now we face an uncertain fall, and winter, and who knows?

The only guarantee is conditions will change. Cross country meets my daughter is planning to run are now questionable, depending on how long health and luck holds out. The football game her band was supposed to march at on Sept. 18 is now canceled with the team in quarantine. Homecoming is also off.


No one can say the kids of 2020 haven’t learned about disappointment. They’ve majored in it. Our so-called leaders have let them down. They’ll remember it.

But like third-grade Ella, they’ll get up, brush themselves off and head to school and into the unknown. Welcome to 2020.

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