As heard on The Armstrong & Getty Show. The letter from a northern CA principal about the importance of getting kids back to school.
September 18, 2020
My name is Justin Kern, proud principal of Gridley High School. I email you today to express my concerns from an educational perspective about the approach that has been taken with our schools. I hope these points will make it into the conversation amongst decision makers immediately. Our county and state leaders to this point have demonstrated no fundamental understanding of education at best, or at worst value control under the guise of protecting us from ourselves more than children getting their education.
Quite simply we are not meeting the needs or acting in the best interest of our children. I fumble for the words to describe what is taking place as I find it incomprehensible. We have shut down the most ESSENTIAL BUSINESS of all - our schools. Without school many other businesses can never fully open or staff at capacity, but this is A point not THE point. As someone tasked with putting the interests of students first I can not reconcile the closures. Originally, my argument was embedded in that I fear an uneducated populace (I believe you are well aware of the ignorance on display daily across the nation) much more than I fear the unknown. However, now I find my focus on the “do no harm” mantra that Sacramento paraded out to us in the Spring. Can we possibly cause more harm by doing what we are doing? I can not think of a decision causing more harm than shutting down our schools. Our collective approach has been to be the most punitive to school age children - the data, the science, and relative common sense simply does not support the severity of the path chosen. It is an undisputed and an irrefutable fact that K-12 students are the demographic least likely to be impacted negatively by COVID-19. I am well aware they can be carriers and often can be asymptomatic. Are there risks? Of course...there is a risk getting out of bed in the morning, getting in a motor vehicle, or eating undercooked chicken. We can not make life altering decisions of what MIGHT happen, and quite honestly that shouldn’t be a political choice to make.
Closures have disproportionately and adversely hurt the youngest of our students. Many young learners that were already impacted by previous school closures due to fire, flood, and now flu are extremely unlikely to meet grade level benchmarks now or in the near future. Not only is educational development stunted, such as literacy, but as you know Butte County has one of the highest percentages of Adverse Childhood Experiences; with schools not in session, people forced into close quarters at home, and numerous added stressors, domestic issues will increase as the reporting of those issues decreases. Teachers that advocate on the behalf of students now have minimal or no contact with those students in a setting outside of the abuse. Mental health is another aspect exacerbated by the closures as student engagement with schools and peers diminishes, anxiety and other mental health and emotional problems increase. As a community that has already been rocked by multiple suicides this past year, and several attempts, this really hits home. On a national level we will lose more young people to suicide than COVID and it won’t even be close.
As far as high school students and families I serve they have been flat out robbed - deprived of athletics, life experiences, social development, prom, and so on with no end in sight. These are benchmarks for some but milestones for others. I struggle with the “save us from ourselves” approach while the businesses that sell vape devices to my teenagers that have a lot of free time on their hands remains open and unaffected. While some community members have been impacted by a virus I wish no one would have to endure, I believe that our community as a majority fundamentally believes that lack of exercise, processed foods, and vaping poses a greater threat to our overall health. The CDC’s considerations for long term school closure does not and has not ever supported the course of action we have taken. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/reopening-schools.html
I realize everything about the coronavirus has become politicized so why not the return to school as well? Let’s not let kids get in the way of political gain. Maybe that is the strategy - the uneducated are easier to control. As seen in most fractured households (Federal/State/Local government or political spectrum) the kids are the ones that suffer. It is my hope that the collective “we” consider them moving forward. Tomorrow is never a guarantee; but I sure hope if tomorrow happens the future generation has the knowledge necessary to guide us through it. The equity we look for in the current guidance is a farce, the educational gap is growing and everyone knows it, as people with means have their students with teachers receiving an education. You are kidding yourself if you do not think this occurs and where is the equity in that?! Some schools are open and the teachers often travel from their Tier 1 residence to get there, does this make sense?
In closing, we were asked to close the doors to evaluate the virus and flatten the curve and relieve the potential burden on health care facilities; well we have and we did. The narrative quickly changed to fit someone’s perception of reality that does not mirror our community. In our new Tiered system there is no return to "normal" as people serving other people is this acceptable? We have been flattening the curve for 186 days now - enough is enough. It is time to get back to school and let parents make the decision that is appropriate for their children as any parent would feel they are entitled to do. I thought we still lived in a country that valued personal choice and freedoms but sadly if we don’t end this nonsense soon, the American Dream will be nothing more than just that, a dream.
Justin M. Kern