Randi Kreiss

Getting our kids back to school must be a priority

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An image sticks in my mind. At the peak of the pandemic, my daughter sent a photo: My granddaughter, 11, was lying in bed in a dark room, “attending math class” online. It had an apocalyptic feel about it, a realization of the creepy dystopian novels I have read.

Then came the sunshine, the vaccines, promising that we could go back to school and our lives. Somehow, however, millions chose not to be inoculated. As a result, a new strain, a Delta variant, is surging among the unvaccinated, and our progress in getting kids back to school is tenuous.

We had our chances to kill this bug. We developed super-effective vaccines, but we squandered our opportunity in a mire of misinformation and mistrust among the followers of conspiracy theories and rogue leaders. More than 600,000 of our fellow citizens have died, a tribute to national dysfunction.

For reasons that were mostly political, tens of millions of people refused to get free and easy vaccine protection against the virus. Within that group, the unvaccinated, the pandemic rages on. These folks are putting everyone else at risk. And they are complicating the return to the classroom.

The idea of mandating the vaccines doesn’t have the traction it should — again, because of pushback that is largely political and anti-science.

We need clear directives from the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We need guidance for opening schools from New York state. How does Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, get away with vacillating on mandating vaccines for working teachers?

The people we count on are protecting their little fiefdoms and political advantages and chances for re-election by pandering to conspiracy theories, irrational fears and misguided groupthink.

Who with the authority to do so will tell the teachers to get the damn shot and get back to class? Who will order that New York state children 12 and older get fully vaccinated? Who will make it a condition of participating in sports that those kids get the shots?

Read the guidelines and despair. The Covid “directives” and “guidance” on school openings and safety rules, from the White House to the New York State Education Department to the governor’s office to local school districts, are a confusing mess of constantly evolving, pass-the-buck “suggestions.” There is monumental fiddling while the country burns.

According to the State Education Department website, it is mandatory that children get vaccinated for polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and chickenpox. This is not optional; kids must be vaccinated or a doctor must provide a valid medical reason for the exception. Why can’t we do this for the Covid vaccine when it becomes available to all school-age kids?

Local school districts are asking for clear, concise guidelines for getting schools open and children back to class. They want to know about vaccination mandates, testing availability, social distancing requirements and options for online teaching. The New York State School Boards Association says that districts need the guidance as soon as possible. A lot of decisions are dependent on these guidelines, said Cathy Woodruff, speaking for the association.

“Districts need as much information as possible, as early as possible, to prepare sufficiently and to put protocols in place in time for the start of school,’’ Woodruff said. “One of the many things we have learned from the experiences of 2020 and 2021 is the importance of consistency in the guidance from the state Department of Health and the CDC.”

Guess what? There is no consistency, and there are no hard-wired guidelines.

As for remote learning, which may be necessary in some places, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this summer that he would be releasing a statewide policy on distance learning. His office has pointed to the state Health Department for guidance on that as well. Superintendents say they can work with the guidance, but need to get it started.

So, everyone is pointing to everyone else for “guidance.” The governor was hobbled by his self-inflicted political wounds, and it's good that he's resigning so we can move on this.

Uncertainties abound. How do you create school environments that are well ventilated and conducive to learning? How do you transport children safely to and from school? How do you feed them and organize their outdoor sports?

These questions beg for clear answers as the new strain of this disease spreads among unvaccinated Americans, creating the awful possibility of another, even more deadly variant popping up among this population of Covid victims who chose not to protect themselves. 

Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.

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