It is what it is

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Posted July 13, 2020 | By Brad Rogers
Executive Editor

It is what it is.

That phrase was uttered over and over during Tuesday’s special Marion County School Board meeting, at the end of which the board voted to re-open local schools on Aug. 10. Fully open. Five days a week. Full classes. Full buses. School pretty much like school always has been.

Oh, there will be masks and face shields and quasi-attempts at social distancing. Visitors will have to have appointments and children who show a temperature of over 100 will have to stay home for three days. But make no mistake, no one in the room felt great about sending our children and our teachers into what could be a petri dish for the coronavirus, despite a unanimous vote by the board.

But what was the School Board to do?

First, they were acting in response to an “emergency order” from state Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, who said the state needed to re-open its schools so parents could get back to work and children could get back to the books. Our public schools may be where our kids learn the 3 R’s, but they’re also free day care, and that was lost on nobody at the School Board meeting.

Then, of course, is this truth: it is not emotionally and, in some cases, physically healthy for children not to be in school. There they get needed socialization, get to bond with friends and, for a depressingly significant number, find shelter and safety from abusive family members or neglect. Board member Beth McCall, who is executive director of the Marion County Children’s Alliance, noted that too many kids have been stuck at home with abusers for too long. She’s right, sadly.

And let’s not forget about the school part of school. Turns out, distance learning on the fly like we saw after the lockdown this spring caused large numbers of students to lose ground academically.

So, after four hours of talk, the board voted to re-open schools here. There was, to be sure, was, no sense of celebration.

It is what it is.

But there’s this. Florida is in the midst of a soaring number of cases of coronavirus. Thousands — close to 10,0000 every day — of new victims are identified daily. More than 4,000 Floridians have died … and counting. Younger people are now showing up in our hospitals in increasing numbers. And, despite what the president or the governor or their minions say, things are not under control. Nor is the coronavirus just going to go away, no matter how much Donald J. Trump wishes it would.

On top of that, Florida, like much of the nation, is facing a serious teacher shortage. Right now, there are nearly 2,500 teacher vacancies statewide. So, while scientists say children are a lot less likely to show symptoms of the virus, they also say children can be asymptomatic while yet spreading the virus. Almost one-third of Marion County teachers are over 50. Not a good combination. And never mind how many other children an asymptomatic child would infect, with his newly infected classmates taking the virus home with them.

I asked School Board member Kelly King, a teacher herself, what would happen if 200 of Marion’s 3,000-plus teachers contracted COVID-19 and had to be quarantined. Would it be a crisis for the school district? Her response: If the district lost 50 teachers, it would be a crisis – both a human crisis and a human resources crisis.

Sigh. It is what it is.

I don’t know the right thing to do. Yes, parents need to get back to work earning a paycheck and businesses need to do business. And children need to get back to some normal routine where they are learning and living and being kids again.

At the same time, while children have been largely spared the viciousness of COVID-19, what will happen when they are packed together into classrooms and buses day after day? And what about our much, much more vulnerable teachers? Are they going to be given any special protection? Is that even possible?

Alas, it is what it is. But it is telling that part of the Marion County report on re-opening the schools, called “Responsibly Re-opening and Beyond,” has a section titled “Second Interruption.” That’s in case COVID-19 ravages our schools and schools have to be shuttered again. Doesn’t sound like the school district is too confident the re-opening will work out.

And you want to guess what those who made these decisions will say if that happens?

It is what it is.

I hate this virus.

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