Aberdeen schools superintendent Dr. Becky Guffin sent district parents her first update of the new school year. Dr. Guffin begins with a sigh of inevitability about the coronavirus pandemic:
First, it is important to recognize that we will have positive cases connected to our schools until there is a vaccine for this virus [Dr. Becky Guffin, e-mail to parents, Aberdeen Central School District, 2020.08.24].
That’s odd—I don’t recall having positive cases connected to our schools when we behaved sensibly in spring and moved to online learning.
But since we won’t do everything in our power to protect our children and teachers from coraonvirus, we’ll have settle for the assurance that the school will give us a heads up when our kids have been around someone who tests positive.
If your child has been exposed and identified as a close contact, you will receive notification from the Department of Health with directions regarding a 14-day quarantine period. A close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of an individual for more than 15 minutes. Simply being in the same room with someone who tests positive does NOT automatically create an exposure [Guffin, 2020.08.24].
Fifteen minutes within six feet is the CDC’s definition of close contact. Some research suggests that simplistic formula is shaky and ignores too many other variables that may spread coronavirus in crowded, enclosed rooms. We haven’t ruled out aerosolized transmission yet, so I’m not going to take too much comfort in the six-foot rule unless the windows are open or we’re outside. And if teachers and students are talking or singing—as they ought to be in school—they might need to sit or stand more than twice as far apart and air out the room for 30 minutes between each class.
Dr. Guffin says students are generally following the school’s pandemic safety precautions. (Anecdotally, my daughter, who sneaks into the building for one class a day, reports every student in her orchestra class, as well as their conductor, wears a mask every day.) But then she couches her strong recommendation that everyone mask up in spineless adminspeak relativism:
We are aware that there are many reasonable and respectable viewpoints on face coverings, and the District is following the latest research, physician advice, and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released on July 23, 2020, specific to face coverings in schools. Wearing a face covering allows our schools to stay open, our staff and students to stay healthy, and supports collective community efforts to reduce the incidence of the virus. We are HIGHLY ENCOURAGING face coverings to be worn when students are entering and exiting the school, working in groups, traveling on the bus, and transitioning in the hallways [Guffin, 2020.08.24].
A pandemic is no time for namby-pam. Many people are expressing feelings about masks and epidemiology that are neither reasonable nor respectable. Viewpoints don’t matter here; science and public responsibility do. Dr. Guffin’s HIGH ENCOURAGEMENT to wear masks isn’t just her opinion amidst a relativist sea of equally valid (and thus equally meaningless) viewpoints. It’s reasoned, science-based guidance that need not stoop to any polite equivalency with yahoos shouting in the streets about socialism. Defying the science and social responsibility of wearing masks amidst a pandemic is as unreasonable and unrespectable as a doctor refusing to scrub up before surgery, or a physics student denying the laws of thermodynamics and motion.
Schools exist to teach certain truths; Dr. Guffin, teach the truth.
Dr. Guffin hints at that truth, saying the district is trying to stick with face-to-face instruction as much as possible. “We need everyone working together to stop the spread,” says Dr. Guffin, contradicting Governor Kristi Noem’s monumentally cynical shrug at public health policy, “and help us maintain as ‘normal’ of a school year as possible.”
That pitch for communal action pivots to a pitch for community donations:
We spent considerable time this summer attempting to identify vendors that had access to the volume of sanitizing supplies we feel we will need this school year. While we were able to secure most of what we need, we would appreciate donations of hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes for our classrooms throughout the year. We know these items are difficult to find but wanted you to know that any donation would be greatly appreciated [Guffin, 2020.08.24].
Our school is still short on vital cleaning supplies to prevent coronavirus from spreading? Say, didn’t the state receive $1.25 billion from the federal government for exactly that sort of coronavirus intervention? And isn’t the state still sitting on most of that money? Instead of asking shoppers in Aberdeen to further deplete the shelves at Target and Kessler’s, wouldn’t it make more sense to ask the Governor to provide one big lump sum and a lead on an industrial-strength vendor who could deliver Lysol and wipes in bulk? (I’d try to be positive and suggest Governor Noem may just be saving that money for something other than hygiene theater… but come on, this is Kristi Noem: even amidst a pandemic, with a ton of free money sitting in her office, she still wants to keep K-12 schools on her tight fiscal leash.)
Meanwhile, 70 positive cases at South Dakota K-12 schools are helping keep South Dakota’s monthlong trend of increasing cases afloat. Our statewide test-positivity rate today was 21%, twice what it was Saturday, and well above the 5% or lower positivity rate that the World Health Organization said in May states should sustain for at least 14 days before reopening their schools and shops.