ON HER FINAL DAY of primary school, Mia (12) joined with 30 other classmates in a surreal setting that typifies the way her life has been for the previous 15 weeks. She stayed two metres apart from friends she has known throughout primary school. I watched the setting and wondered what lies ahead in what may be a hybrid form of education for our two school children.
Ireland is moving forward with reopening businesses. Talking heads on the radio offer commercially driven messages forecasting economic suffering ahead for everyone. I believe if we prioritise businesses, we waste an opportunity to ensure a better fall for children and families. We need to do everything in our power to make a return to school possible in the fall. We need to explore how to do this for younger children first. They must be the top priority.
For this to be a realistic goal, case counts of the COVID-19 virus must continue downward. Since COVID-19 is spread by groups, we need to restrict international travel, require universal mask wearing, and offer easy access to hand santisation. And we need to be acutely aware of the local incidence of outbreaks.
When Ireland first battled this pandemic, we sacrificed school, closed child care facilities, and asked families to join a nationwide surge of emergency remote teaching and learning. This strategy cannot sustain Ireland into the future but it seemed logical since we assumed COVID-19, like many other respiratory illnesses, would be spread by children. We still don't know if that's a viable assumption since there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence to disprove the premise.
We still don't know how this particular virus works. We do know that a second wave is very probable and that if it happens, many will die.
Listening to teachers and principals in my local area, it seems that Boards of Management want to figure out how to reopen in the fall. Policies such as social distancing for five year olds and deep cleaning of shared assets are major challenges. If management wants to continue the status quo of minimising the number of times large groups of students mingle in the same physical space, it means means school in the fall semester of 2020 will follow a hybrid learning model with students taking classes in school part-time only a few days a week and online every day of the week. If this happens, my workday productivity as a third level lecturer will decline. Moms across Ireland will be asked to step back into their roles with generous amounts of maternal sacrifice. Plus, we need to plan for the inevitability of sick days due to seasonal influenza.
I've set up electronic alerts that uncover emerging evidence showing that younger children are at lower risk of getting COVID-19 and are not a major source of spread. However, nothing I've read suggests a no-risk scenario. Children could be asymptomatic and then bring COVID-19 home to their parents and grandparents.
So for the remaining months of the summer break, I hope we can continue to see days of zero COVID-19 deaths and no more than a dozen new cases across Ireland. We need to start a new school term with low transmission rates, clean physical spaces, and treat the daily school attendance roll as an effective contact-tracing system.
Do you have any other suggestions?