By Trevann Hamilton
Recently, the government of Jamaica announced that schools will be reopened on October 5th. However, instead of face to face learning, classes will be done online. This was the only sensible option since Jamaica is in the middle of a spike of COVID-19 cases. By Wednesday, September 23rd, Jamaica had 5588 cases. By the time this article comes out, we’ll probably be just shy of 6000. That is, if we wouldn’t have already hit that number.
Other countries and states are taking a mixed approach in opening schools. Some schools are online and some have opened for face to face classes. This is definitely not the first pandemic the world has seen. When I think about a similar pandemic, the Spanish Flu comes to mind. I did some light research on what happened then and how that relates to what is happening now.
What Happened To Schools During the Spanish Flu
The Spanish Flu pandemic, which lasted from 1918 to 1920, claimed the lives of 50 million people, but in some places, namely New York City and Chicago in the United States, schools remained open. As a matter of fact, just like is happening now, people were pushing for the reopening of schools and regular classes. According to History.com, Dr. S. Josephine Baker, Director of the Department of Health Bureau of Child Hygiene and a leading progressive reformer, believed that schools should remain open. The article stated, “Baker argued that kids were better off contained in schools and that regular medical inspections could identify sick students and keep healthy ones safe. Just to provide context, in New York City at the time, there were about one million students and just about 750,000 of them were living in tenements described as “unsanitary homes”.
Baker believed that the schools would be much better than their homes. Baker said “[Children] leave their often unsanitary homes for large, clean, airy school buildings, where there is always a system of inspection and examination enforced.” Students who were displaying symptoms were to be isolated and examined to see if they should remain home or be treated in a hospital.
Was Baker Right?
What was interesting about all of this was that in New York and Chicago, the teachers and parents didn’t feel the way Baker felt. According to the History.com article, absenteeism increased. The article stated, “Many parents in Chicago opted to keep their children home anyway: Stern and her co-authors reported that absentee rates went from 30 percent in early to mid-October, 1918 to nearly 50 percent late that month. Robertson later suggested parents were keeping children home because of what he called ‘fluphobia’. “
Science also doesn’t really buy into Baker’s beliefs. According to a study done, nonpharmaceutical interventions were effective in curbing the spread of the virus. In the study, nonpharmaceutical interventions were grouped into 3 major categories: school closure, cancellation of public gatherings, and isolation and quarantine. The study stated that the combination of cancellation of public gatherings coupled with school closure, “was significantly associated with reductions in weekly EDR (excess death rate)”. In addition to that, places that implemented nonpharmaceutical interventions, according to the study, “had greater delays in reaching peak mortality, lower peak mortality rates, and lower total mortality”.
Is History Repeating Itself?
Absolutely. For example, the world hasn’t made a collective decision as to whether or not schools should reopen. In places where there is a low number of cases, maybe the argument could be made that schools may be opened with particular restrictions. However, that may cause a spike depending on how well the students follow instructions as well as the adults at home. In addition to that, people aren’t following protocol even though we know they work. While they’re not the same virus, they seem to spread in a very similar way.
Even though we know close contact leads to spread, schools are still being opened. The Jamaica Observer published an article recently about 2500 students in Switzerland who are under quarantine after an outbreak due to off-campus partying. While only 11 students have been confirmed positive so far, the school was closed as a precaution.
The United States has been having similar problems. People are complaining of parents sending COVID-19 positive children to schools. Schools have been locked down while others have reopened or plan to reopen.
People have their academic goals and we’re being told we simply have to live with the virus but I still think it’s the government’s responsibility to control what they can while we control what we can.
For our country, having school online was the only choice. While the virus is new, scientists do have some idea now of how to curb the spread. Our best bets are masks and social distancing.
Children, just like adults are social beings. Many adults are having difficulty following social distancing and mask-wearing rules so it would be ludicrous to expect children to do this. Children are likely to switch masks, touch their faces and cough without covering their mouths. Even though all of these actions are dangerous, they’re still children and adults can’t be too mad at them for it. The best thing we can do is protect them from themselves.
While the decision was the correct one, my thoughts are with those who don’t have a conducive home environment to learning. I’m thinking about those who aren’t very technologically inclined nor have people around them who are. I’m thinking about those without devices.
The government will be providing devices to students on PATH but there will be students who can afford neither the laptop nor the internet, who will slip through the cracks. I’m also concerned about those who don’t have support at home and those who will need face to face classes for the information to stick. Any kind of challenge, like a pandemic, tends to highlight issues we have in our society such as poverty, digital illiteracy and inequality. Those affected were always aware but they were screaming to the deaf ears of those who believe in the myth of meritocracy.
I’m just hoping that enough attention is given to these issues and that these marginalized children don’t slip further through the cracks. None of this is their fault.
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