Those who argue for reopening public schools for in-person instruction during the coronavirus pandemic have been saying that school boards should “follow the science” and recognize that it is reasonably safe to bring students — especially very young students — back into classrooms.
What they often fail to note is that “the science” tells us that school districts should take specific steps in order to assure that students and their families, teachers and other school employees, and the community are protected.
When school districts rush to reopen, even for the best of reasons, they must be checked and balanced with demands for safety protocols. That’s what Madison Teachers Inc. did last week, when it presented a framework for phased reentry to the schools. At the heart of the framework were calls for a robust vaccination program, thorough testing, access to personal protective equipment, smart ventilation strategies and a host of other proposals that assure the Madison Metropolitan School District’s approach to reopening is based on a sufficiently scientific approach.
As MMSD laid out a plan to have students begin returning to school on March 9, Public Health Madison and Dane County announced a plan to work with local providers to get all school staff vaccinated during the course of the month. That’s a vital first step. Public Health director Janel Heinrich announced, “We all want kids in classrooms and vaccinated teachers are one more way that schools can protect the health and safety of staff and students.
Heinrich is precisely right that the vaccination program is vital. She’s also right when she that this is “one more way” to protect staff and students. For the science to work, all of the concerns outlined in the MTI framework should be addressed. That’s a tall order for the school district, but that’s the best way to assure that the reopening of schools is safe, equitable and scientific.
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