April 29, 2020 – In a call with governors this week, President Trump suggested states should seriously consider reopening their public schools before the end of the academic year, even though many have already said it would be unsafe for students to return to school before next fall.
Lee Adler, an expert on education and academic union issues at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, says public schools are one of the most dangerous breeding grounds for coronavirus and until widespread testing is available across the country it’s not safe for schools to reopen.
President Trump and others have wanted to open up the economy and schools since he ordered them closed. But now that our nation is at a crossroads, it is critical to ask what needs to be done to ensure safety for not only children and their families, but also teachers, school staff and their families. We know that it is only by massive testing – something that has happened nearly nowhere in the U.S. – that we can be relatively sure that it is ok to open the schools.
Although this statistic may not be fully up to date, the testing of antibodies in parts of the country and more specifically targeted parts of the population – such as persons who may have acquired the virus but showed no symptoms – indicates that a rate of nearly 20% of all tested likely had the virus. The scientists do not know if that means they will not contract it again, or if they could get it again asymptomatically and then pass it to others.
In a school setting, if those figures are accurate, that means there could be five adults in a faculty of 40, or 20 adults in a faculty of 100, who are carriers of some sort that may pass the virus to the children or to their colleagues to take home. Given the utter seriousness of the illness, why in the world should our society take that risk, even with masks and social distancing?
I know of no truly noteworthy public policy that is more critical for all than understanding what it might mean to corral this illness and allow our society to reset. Our public schools would be amongst our most dangerous breeding grounds for continuing trouble if we returned, now, without knowing any more than we do.
I cannot imagine any bona fide labor leader in the teachers unions allowing their members to go back to work under these dangerous circumstances in any state. Further, I am not sure that rank and file teachers, seeing what has happened to their sisters and brothers in health care settings, would be willing now to return to work.
Given what I believe, although Upstate New York would not be as dangerous as New York City, the testing has not been done there either, and until that occurs to the satisfaction of union leaders, the schools in each district need to remain closed as a matter of critical public policy.
Experts at Cornell University are available to discuss the coronavirus crisis from a variety of perspectives: the science and health implications of the disease, its impact on the global economy, labor and specialized industries, effects on countries around the world and the broader impact the crisis is having on our daily lives.