Does The Show Really Have to Go On?
By Kenneth Cooper
Looking at the Coronavirus numbers from the past two weeks, it’s safe to say that this is really getting out of control again. The state is averaging almost 2000 cases a day. We have walked halfway back to Phase 1. A mask is required once you step out the door. And bars have been reduced to curbside service. Locally, the city tallied just about 100 new cases a day last week, double the threshold, if sustained, that would officially send us back to Phase 1. Yet, in spite of it all, August 4th is approaching, and one big question remains: Should we really be sending kids back to school?
That question was asked over and over to Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis during a radio interview on WBOK’s The Good Morning Show last week. Dr. Lewis never really answered the question directly. Instead, he laid out what the Orleans Parish School Board District has been preparing to do once schools do open. There are three things of interest: 1) The school year is going to be strange. 2) It’s going to be expensive. 3) And if the Coronavirus cases keep coming in like they are, it probably won’t last long, in person anyway.
Not all students will be in school all the time. High school students, for example, may only physically be in school 2 days a week, but Pre-k – 4th grade students will be in class everyday. Middle school students, on the other hand, (5th – 8th grade) will have a hybrid schedule. Dr. Lewis said this is due to the amount of people who can be in the building at one time.
Most students and teachers will also be required to wear masks. This is necessary of course, but it does get hot behind a mask, especially if you wear one for continuous hours during the day. Trying to get students to focus on the lesson, and not the uncomfortableness, is bound to be tough.
If parents aren’t comfortable should we really be sending kids back to school? They can choose distance learning. No details were given on exactly what that means. Will the teacher record the lecture and send it to the student? Will the teacher have to put in extra hours and host an additional online class? For younger students, does that mean parents will basically have to homeschool the entire school year?
It will be really expensive. Should we really be sending kids back to school? “The top priority is whether we have our students in buildings or not. We have to make sure we’re able to have our students receive an education,” Dr. Lewis said. That “or not” option and the hybrid scheduling has resulted in a lot of money being spent.
For example, since some students will have classes online, or under the worse case scenario have them online full time, the District purchased 10,000 Chrome Books and 8000 hot spots. Dr. Lewis said the focus just wasn’t on supplying computers, but also making sure students have the connectivity to use them.
A lot of money was also spent making sure teachers and staff are protected. Masks, face shields, disinfectants, other forms of PPE, “We purchased those items for the entire school system,” Dr. Lewis said. The District also brought in a medical advisor from LSU. Additional purchases will also be needed for things like backup masks for when a teacher or student inevitably loses theirs. As with the city, the Coronavirus is taking a toll on the District’s budget.
But even as Dr. Lewis went through all the planning and preparation, that one question still remained: why are we doing this at all, especially considering that the virus is affecting African Americans at a disproportionate rate? Dr. Lewis had this to say: “At the end of the day, the type of decisions I’m going to make are going to be well grounded in the facts of our community…and…as superintendent of schools I’m making decisions that won’t put our people in harms way.”
At the same time though, he may have inadvertently hinted that the decision could also be based on funding. “But if somebody says if you don’t open the school building you won’t be able to get the money, then that’s going to be an issue,” he said. He wasn’t pressed on that issue.
But yes, – strange, expensive, and possibly short lived, in person anyway. If at any point we revert back to Phase 1, then all school buildings will be closed and classes will resort to being strictly online. “The situation is fluid,” as Dr. Lewis said, but more information will be available early next week, as he or a representative from the District will begin the first of weekly press conferences. You can bet there will be a lot of questions and confusion. But one thing is for sure, the upcoming school year will be something none of us have ever experienced before.