How can it be safe for private schools to reopen their campuses to students if it is not also safe for public schools to do so? Conversely, if private schools can do it, why can’t our public schools open now? These are fair questions and ones that a lot of parents are asking these days — whether their kids go to California public schools or learn on private campuses.
The truth is that none of us are completely safe when we venture out to be with others in the midst of a global pandemic. That schools view the risk differently has everything to do with their ability to meet safety protocols and the risk tolerance of their various constituencies. It’s no surprise that better-funded private schools are in a better position to navigate that balance.
In recent weeks, Pacifica’s private schools have taken definitive steps toward repopulating their classrooms. That isn’t to say they merely opened the doors and let in the masses without regard to the safety of students and staff. Rather Pacific Bay Christian and Good Shepherd School have been able to tiptoe through public health directives by making sure kids keep their distance and remain in distinct cohorts. They are methodically moving toward the blessed day when kids are able to resume the education they deserve — side by side in a way that affords them the hands-on expertise of teachers and the social networking that is crucial for development.
So why can’t public schools do the same?
The reasons are numerous and complicated. Class sizes are generally bigger in public schools, so it’s more difficult to keep kids apart. Teachers, protected by unions, are more likely to squelch reopening plans when they don’t include the kind of COVID-19 testing and other protections private schools can afford. Students come from a variety of circumstances and are themselves not always able to stay safe outside of school. Public schools are tied to bureaucracy that can slow the process. There are sometimes liability concerns and facility issues.
While different responses are understandable and reasonable, they can also be unfortunate. This summer, the New York Times noted that public and privat schools were moving at different paces and posited that it was deepening a class divide. Even when all learning was done remotely, as it was in the spring in the earliest phase of the current pandemic, schools had wildly different resources at their disposal. Many Peninsula private schools could ensure that all students had the technology they needed at home, including computers and software as well as the intimate tutoring needed to make sure everyone advanced apace. That is not always the case in our public schools. Though administrators and teachers try, often heroically, to make sure every student has the same opportunity, they are not always in a position to mitigate challenges at home. It can be much harder to learn in a small apartment that holds two families than in a room of your own.
We wish we could say this is a 2020 problem that will soon be ending and that all children will soon be welcomed back to class. That is likely not the case as we head into the dead of winter. Across the country, the coronavirus is spreading like the wildfires of August. Experts warn that, as we head indoors, more of us are likely to be exposed to this potentially deadly virus. It’s likely that some school reopenings will have to be scaled back in the weeks to come.
We don’t envy school administrators. Everyone wants to return to a normal classroom environment, but no one wants to spread this virus. You’re more likely to find easy answers in an AP calculus class. For now, the best decisions are those that promise to keep the most people safe and afford the best chance at learning under those circumstances.
Someday, we will need to freely reinvest in education to give our kids the opportunities they have lost and so richly deserve.
— Clay Lambert