It's true. In-person school is safe
So why do we keep acting like it isn't?
Here’s some news about Covid and San Francisco schools I’ll bet you didn’t know.
“The test positivity rate within SFUSD is 0.3%, lower than the surrounding SF community despite the fact that 5-11 year-olds are unvaxed.”
That’s from Dr. Jeanne Noble, the director of COVID Response Emergency Department at UCSF.
The point is pretty simple. This is the third week school has been open. There hasn’t been a super-spreader catastrophe. We don’t have dozens, or hundreds, of kids in the ICU. Or on ventilators. Or, God forbid, dying.
“We do not have any kind of pediatric surge in the Bay Area,” Dr. Noble emailed this week.
The fact is, based on what we see now, in-person, five-days-a-week school is safe. We are following the rules. We’re masking up. We’re doing waaaaaay better than a lot of places.
Take a look at this scene from last weekend’s Wisconsin football game.
Compared to them we look like lab technicians. We’re doing great.
So why don’t we act like it?
One thing we can say: the SF School Board has gotten the memo. The recall petition drive for President Gabriela Lopez, Alison Collins and Vice President Faauuga Moliga, hasn’t just gotten traction. It’s digging in.
Signatures to recall Lopez and Collins are now well over 80,000, according to organizers, far above their 70,000 goal and miles over the 51,325 needed to force an election.
So note from the school board — we get it. You want schools open. We are on it.
The Board put out a mostly reasonable list of protocols early this month, but couldn’t resist some of those We-know-better-than-everyone-else moments.
Everyone supported air filtration and mask wearing. But it also included “heightened (COVID) testing” and — big objection here — “providing remote learning options.” The list got a response from Dr. Noble on Twitter.
“Definitely not medically warranted,” she said. “There are less than less than 10 children hospitalized across UCSF’s hospitals either with COVID or because of COVID. When you have fewer than 10 kids hospitalized . . . you don’t have a surge.”
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We will get to virtual learning, and its problems, in a moment, but first we have now heard what the board meant by “heightened testing.”
Collins, for one, has been promoting the idea of testing in schools once a week.
Sounds reasonable, right? But it looks more like a solution in search of a problem, as detailed in this Washington Post op-ed, co-written by UCSF’s Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert.
First is cost. Although there are reports that the state will fund testing, you have to wonder if they would agree to administer $20 tests to over 50,000 students (not to mention teachers and employees) once a week.
Where did that pot of money come from? And if you’re doing it here, shouldn’t it be done for everyone? The Rockefeller Foundation estimated that testing all public school districts weekly would cost $42.5 billion.
Also, as Gandhi and co-authors point out, the rapid tests have a false positive of 1 to two percent. That doesn’t sound like much, but with 52,000 students it could be over 1,000 students — per week.
And finally, schools are already doing a good job of identifying COVID. In the first week of opening SFUSD identified 64 positive cases. As we learn from Dr. Noble, only a fraction needed medical care.
Yes, there have been quarantines. But a quarantine isn’t COVID. If the choice is between a 10-day quarantine and no school — or Zoom school — it isn’t even close. In-person school is an infinitely better choice.
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Which brings us to another good-intentions-bad-policy choices.
At the start of this school year over 800 SF families opted for virtual learning. Again, it seems like it makes sense. You’re worried about your child getting sick. And Zoom School has its drawbacks, but it is a reasonable and workable solution.
Not even close.
Now we are starting to see the data, and it is exactly what parents feared as they watched their children daydream through on-line lessons. Wasn’t the idea to get this generation away from the computer screens?
Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes concluded, in study of 19 states, that students fell back academically anywhere from a third of a year to a full year because of the limitations of on-line learning.
The term “learning loss” refers to the gap between what a student should know at a given grade level, and where he or she actually is. A student that didn’t learn multiplication tables, for instance, would not be able to do long division in the next grade.
And in the thanks-for-nothing department, a new state law — again, it sounds logical but . . . — mandates enhanced “long term remote learning.”
Which meant districts, already strapped with teacher shortages, were supposed to put together two staffs — one for classrooms and one for Zoom School.
“We’re already experiencing a teacher shortage,” SFUSD spokeswoman Gentle Blythe told Cal Matters. “Trying to add teachers to independent study just exacerbates that challenge.”
Or as Simi Valley Unified Superintendent Jason Peplinski said, “What they did is they wrecked both programs.”
And by the way, there has been an undercurrent of support for Zoom School because advocates say it benefits black and brown students.
The opposite is true.
A study by McKinsey and Company quoted in this Time story, found that students of color clearly suffered more leaning loss than white students. You can fill in the reasons, beginning with an often lower income.
“Those who came into the pandemic with the fewest academic opportunities are on track to exit with the greatest learning loss,” the McKinsey report says.
There is no substitute for in-person learning.
And by the way, let’s take a moment to congratulate San Francisco and Northern California.
In San Francisco, 96 percent of school employees are vaccinated. Masks are commonplace. A vaccine card must be shown to eat or drink indoors.
Compared to a lot of other states, we look like a a responsible group of people, taking reasonable precautions.
And it is working. Our COVID rates aren’t high. Our ICUs aren’t full.
Our schools are safe. Now we need to act like it.
Contact C.W. Nevius at email@example.com. Suggestions and compliments gladly accepted. Complaints not so much. Twitter: @cwnevius