As a resident of Anne Arundel County and the state of Maryland, and the parent of two first-graders at Shipley’s Choice Elementary, I am deeply disappointed in Dr. Arlotto's decision to delay elementary school learning inside of classrooms till February 2021 from November 16, 2020, which was already delayed from the expected post Labor Day start to the school year. Anne Arundel County and the state of Maryland have now had over eight months to come up with a plan to live in a world where COVID-19 exists and children are allowed to attend school in person. Private schools in the area have figured it out, other states hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic have figured it out, yet our public school system using my tax dollars has not.
The decision was based on the seven-day average of infections rising to 15 per 100,000 residents (i.e. 0.015%). What is the basis of this rationale? As of July 2019, the most recent census data, there are 579,234 residents in Anne Arundel County. The willingness to put our county’s 85,000 students’ socioeconomic future at risk for 87 people who have tested positive for the virus, and who will more than likely spend their time recuperating at home, is shortsighted and absurd. I am not naïve; I understand the risk of virus spread, but according to Johns Hopkins’ most recent data, the case-fatality rate in the U.S. has fallen to 2.4%. Various research examining the total number of infections, which includes unreported cases, peg the actual global death rate at 0.5%-1.0%. We now know that the most at risk for hospitalization and death due to COVID-19 are older adults and people with underlying medical conditions. Neither describe the vast majority of school-age children. The CDC states that compared to 18- to 29-year-olds, children 5-17 years of age are nine times less likely to be hospitalized and 16 times less likely to die from the virus.
We are past the time of making blunt COVID-19 decisions, we can take a smart nuanced approach to our children’s future without sacrificing their safety or their teachers. Public school teachers are essential workers paid for with our tax dollars, which is no different than fire or policemen who are on the front lines every day. Teachers can be in the classroom safely, to teach our children daily, just as grocery store workers can pack groceries and the post office can deliver the mail. If certain teachers are at increased risk of severe illness, accommodative plans can be made. Young teachers can be hired. It's time to balance the risk of COVID-19 with the reward of our children’s future because the effect of this cowardly decision will be felt by our youth for years to come. The decision to postpone in-person classes till February 2021 has already cost the average K-12 student $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings according to McKinsey & Co. The longer classroom re-entry is delayed, the more likely socioeconomic differences and inequality will be inflamed as those with the means to do so will opt out of the public school system for private institutions that provide a robust education platform, while enabling parents to work and increase our state's tax base. Working class families unable to do so will not have an equal opportunity to achieve academic goals and will be unprepared for the rigors needed to succeed in college and beyond. We have already seen this play out in my neighborhood. It will only get worse the longer our educational leaders live in fear of a virus that if caught is not a death sentence.
I am the product of the Anne Arundel County public school system. I have championed it in the past. I hope I won't have to turn my back on it.