Private school openings will affect larger community

Here’s something we can agree on: We all want all kids to go back to school.

Here’s what we don’t agree on: When COVID-19 rates are spiking in our cities and counties, now is not the right time to put students, teachers and staff at risk.

We know we don’t agree because numerous private schools, including all the Catholic schools, and a few publics, are moving ahead with in-person openings, despite the pleas of Gov. Andy Beshear to start school online until rates move down again. While this highlights, once again, the numerous ways in which COVID-19 has exposed our society’s inequalities, the arguments don’t really matter.

It could go two ways. One, some school finds wonderful and novel ways to open in person and keep everyone safe from the most insidious virus most of us have ever seen. Then we can copy them, open schools across the state and we can all be happy.

Or, COVID-19 will have the last say, as it always does, and it will spread, as it’s done in every school district that’s tried to open anywhere in the country. Cherokee County, Ga., for example, opened Aug. 4, and has now quarantined about 1,200 students, teachers and staff, as well as closed two high schools due to positive tests. The same thing will happen in Kentucky, and the re-opened schools will have to close, and end up back on line.

Only more people will be sick.

I have a feeling that Beshear and Education Commissioner Kevin Brown will prevail on public schools, but they have no purview over the privates. And I get that when people pay for private school, they expect more service than they believe they can get in the public system. If they pay for in-person school, that’s what they want. At Sayre School for example, Headmaster Steven Manella started the week by saying Sayre would stick with Beshear’s recommendations, but by Thursday had “received numerous communications from families” to start as planned.

But I wonder how many of those parents have considered the danger to their children, their children’s teachers and the people who clean up after their children, people who may not have the money to pay for a lengthy hospital stay, much less private school.

Have those parents thought that by furthering community spread of COVID-19, which is exactly what’s going to happen, the chances that the children who REALLY need school the most, the hungry, or abused, or special needs students, will be less likely to get to go back? Spreading COVID-19 will also continue to hurt children on the wrong side of the digital divide, who may not have good access to the Internet. It’s funny because private school kids are the most equipped to do online school, in addition to many other resources they have.

“Pray for our school,” says Lexington Christian Academy head of school B. Scott Wells, as he announced he’d be bringing more than 1,000 kids back to the South Lexington campus next week, which will be exactly one week after Kentucky posted its most COVID-19 cases ever.

Here’s what we should pray for instead: That some day our income inequality lessens to the point that we don’t depend on schools to feed hungry kids and stop domestic abuse;

That we close the digital divide;

That we think, to quote Scripture, about the least among us, before we worry if online school means our kids won’t get in to Harvard. (Hint: They probably won’t anyway.)

That our president will finally, finally come up with a national plan to stop this virus so superintendents don’t have to get into food fights over testing data that may or may not exist.

We are not a community-minded society. Too many of us have made that clear over and over again with our refusal to wear masks, with entertaining the idea that COVID-19 is a hoax, with the myriad ways we’ve acted during this pandemic. I get it. But maybe those with the most privilege among us could stop for just a minute and consider those who will be hurt most by their actions. It might even be their own kids.

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