Rechkemmer: Lives over learning

Columnist Gracie Rechkemmer discusses the argument over returning to school despite putting lives at risk. 

Gracie Rechkemmer

As the school year approaches, legislators and educators across the country face a critical decision: will students return to school, will we pursue online learning programs or will we settle for some combination of the two?

It seems like a lose-lose situation for many. In-person schooling would increase the spread of COVID-19, inevitably putting more lives at risk. Online learning poses many other challenges, including access to technology, quality of education and parents’ ability to provide child care. Hybrid models offer a compromise, but cannot wholly address every issue. There are many factors to consider, but to me, one stands out as more relevant than the rest:

We must prioritize survival. 

Last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation that seems to disagree. The proclamation states that instruction must be primarily in person at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, undermining many districts’ “Return to Learn” plans, which elected to start the year with online education in an attempt to prioritize the health and safety of students and faculty. Because of this proclamation, school districts throughout Iowa have to rework their plans to include primarily in-person learning. 

The arguments for returning to school are plenty, and they are valid arguments. However, none of these arguments justify lost lives. 

The spread of COVID-19 in Iowa is not slowing down. Case numbers continue to grow. People continue to die. Experts warn against rushing into the reopening of schools, claiming that many people could die who may have otherwise survived. While children have a relatively low risk of becoming severely ill due to COVID-19, it is still a risk. If in-person schooling is resumed next month, some children will become seriously ill. Some will even die. Don’t these children matter?

We must also consider that students are not the only lives affected by the decision to send them back to school. Many parents and faculty members are at risk for serious illness related to COVID-19, and these individuals will likely not be able to correctly practice social distancing from students who may be infected. Especially once flu season begins, classrooms will become breeding grounds for illnesses to spread.

It will be impossible to guarantee the health and safety of our citizens in the traditional classroom setting. 

Because students’ safety should always be the primary priority of those in charge of their education, it is an extremely unwise decision to send them back to school during a pandemic.

Yes, the quality of education is important.

Yes, we must consider the economy and the ability of parents to work.

But no, none of these things should be the deciding factor when lives are on the line.