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Teachers' View: Keeping schools closed is harmful to students

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Not every teacher in the Cook County school district is in support of the distance-learning model adopted for the 2020-’21 school year. COVID-19 has presented almost every decision-making group with a lesser-of-two-evils decision. We believe the decision to go to an immediate distance-learning model is the greater of two evils.

Gov. Tim Walz, based on data in Cook County, gave our school district permission to go back to school. Of course, this plan involved creating a controlled environment and implementing safety measures and social distancing to protect students and those at higher risk. He spelled out a data-driven approach for our return. We were looking at a great opportunity to get our kids back in school.

As is stated directly on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Extended school closure is harmful to children. It can lead to severe learning loss, and the need for in-person instruction is particularly important for students with heightened behavioral needs.”

Additionally, the CDC provides support that COVID-19 poses a low risk to school-aged children: “The best available evidence indicates that … children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults,” the CDC’s “The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools this Fall” states. “To put this in perspective, according to the CDC, the United States reported that children and adolescents under 18 years old account for under 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths. Although relatively rare, flu-related deaths in children occur every year. From 2004-2005 to 2018-2019, flu-related deaths in children reported to CDC during regular flu seasons ranged from 37 to 187 deaths. During the H1N1 pandemic (April 15, 2009 to October 2, 2010), 358 pediatric deaths were reported to CDC. So far in this pandemic, deaths of children are less than in each of the last five flu seasons, with only 64.”

A Johns Hopkins University research article, “The Ethics of K-12 School Reopening: Identifying and Addressing the Values at Stake,” said: “What children lose by not being in school is enormous; school attendance is a life-defining experience that is critical for educational, social, and emotional development.” The article also said: “The prevailing view is that returning to the classroom poses minimal direct risk to the health of children. … Most children do not get seriously ill from COVID-19 and very few deaths have been reported.”

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So what we have done to our children is shut down their right to a quality education. That does not sit well with us. And it shouldn’t sit well with you. We have compromised the basic experiences every child so very much deserves, including the opportunity to be in the same room as highly qualified and skilled teachers; the opportunity to see friends everyday; the opportunity to get sent to the principal’s office and learn from mistakes; the opportunity to be involved in sports and extracurricular activities; the opportunity for those little moments in the hallway — the smiles, the funny interactions, and more; and all the other experiences that make school great for kids. For all of that to be taken away due to irrational reasons is an offense to our students.

We took jobs in the field of education because we love kids. And we will never stop advocating for their best interest.

Students, we will always be there for you and your needs. Parents, we will always do our very best to give your kids the best school experience we possibly can.

Andy Feddema is a social studies teacher, Marly (Wester) Zimmer is a physical education teacher, Steven Anderson is a math teacher, and Kayle Hielscher is a first-grade teacher in the Cook County School District in Grand Marais.

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