Danny De Gracia: Mercenary Economics Are Fueling A Rush To Reopen Schools - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Last week, as Hawaii saw an alarming rise in the highest daily case numbers since the pandemic began, the state Board of Education asked for public input over reopening schools in the first week of August. It received more than 4,000 comments, many in strong opposition.

There appears to be a growing disconnect between the threat COVID-19 poses and the rush by federal and local governments to get people back to work or school, in spite of surging infections. No vaccine has yet been deployed or proven to consistently work against the coronavirus. Herd immunity has not materialized in countries that have attempted that as a public health response. And yet, here in the United States, the most scientifically astute and technologically advanced nation in the world, the coronavirus is overrunning our country like a wildfire.

The “new normal” that is emerging seems to be one that acquiesces to COVID-19 as something that we just have to live with, rather than a dangerous threat to be eliminated. Last week, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group organized a joint letter, signed by over 150 national health experts, blasting states for failing to contain COVID-19.

“In March, people went home and stayed there for weeks, to keep themselves and their neighbors safe,” the letter says. “You didn’t use the time to set us up to defeat the virus. And then you started to reopen anyway, and too quickly … The best thing for the nation is not to reopen as quickly as possible, it’s to save as many lives as possible.”

Kaneohe Elementary School summer school students wash their hands before school starts during COVID-19 pandemic. June 12, 2020

State education officials have been planning to reopen schools Aug. 4 with social distancing and good safety protocols in place.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The issue of reopening schools across the country and in Hawaii has been presented to us as purportedly being a key part of moving forward. We have been told that keiki need to be physically present in classrooms, even in spite of skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers, because they can’t learn otherwise, and also that they need to be there to get meals. President Donald Trump in particular has said “schools must open in the Fall.”

But the stench of politics and mercenary economics seems to pervade this process, and no one paying attention seems to actually believe this is about education. The differing standards in dealing with adults and keiki also raises eyebrows.

On one hand, we are told that adults should wear masks indoors and make use of virtual communication in meetings. On the other hand, we are told that children should not wear masks in classrooms because it will interfere with teachers identifying the students. And even if they do get infected, that’s OK because contact tracing can deal with any keiki that get COVID-19.

Under normal circumstances, we already require students to get vaccinated against some nine different diseases which mankind has had exposure to and for which treatment options have been available for a century or more. It is considered unsafe if a student attends school without being up-to-date on these vaccination requirements. But, in the case of COVID-19, which has no vaccine, we are to believe attending in the midst of this pandemic is totally safe and probably a low threat.

In Hawaii, there are many things we think but do not say, out of fear of being offensive or controversial. But I’ll be the lightning rod and ask the question that we all need to hear answered: Are we rushing to open schools in a COVID-19 pandemic because our keiki need to learn, or are we doing this because parents need state-sponsored baby sitting so they can go back to work, be taxed and fund Hawaii’s government?

In the days of the Soviet Union, whenever there was a nuclear accident, anthrax outbreak or other dangerous incident in Russia, communist officials would infamously tell workers “the risk was low” and send people out, often with defective protective equipment, to continue to work to keep their country in business. Bad government is a one-trick pony, and the only “trick” it knows is to tell people “the risk is low; go back to work.” This is precisely what we are seeing here in Hawaii and across the United States.

Are we rushing to open schools in a COVID-19 pandemic because our keiki need to learn, or are we doing this because parents need state-sponsored baby sitting so they can go back to work, be taxed and fund Hawaii’s government?

First, Hawaii leaders need to think of our teachers as critically important and prioritize saving their lives. They are not expendable, and we are already facing an educator shortage in the Aloha State. We can’t afford to lose so much as a single teacher to COVID-19, and we are going to need them in the future to teach whoever survives this pandemic the lessons of history if we wish to move forward.

Second, and more pressingly, we should not be playing viral Russian roulette with our keiki. We need to take the time it needs to protect our keiki, period.

Some of you may be wondering why I have been so hawkish on COVID-19, and I’ll tell you why. Three weeks ago, my high school best friend died of COVID-19 at age 41 in San Antonio. Despite being a man who took great precautions against infection, he still got the disease.

His death is particularly infuriating to me, because months earlier, Bexar County officials held a rally in San Antonio telling people that COVID-19 was “fake” and that people needed to “take off their masks” as a mark of patriotism.

These people all touted how low the percentages for fatality and chances of infection were. It’s easy to boast about how fewer than 1% die of a disease – until it’s someone you love that’s in that 1%.

Hawaii’s elected officials and policymakers need to take note of this, as BOE revisits the question of reopening schools this week. Do not roll the dice on the lives of our teachers and children. We can afford to wait. We can’t afford to lose any more lives.

Read this next:

How Do I Teach My Kids About Climate Change?

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

Out of 5700 COVID-19 deaths in Sweden since March, July will see only slightly more than 200. Any reasonable person would see that as Herd Immunity.Studies have shown that flu is more deadly to persons less than 20 years old than COVID-19. Also emerging research shows that it is far more difficult for children to pass the virus to adults. The issue is protecting older teachers and grandparents and with some thought both can be accomplished. For example older teachers can video conference in while a younger proctor monitors the class.Its politically easy to just say shut everything down but that’s a simplistic view of how things work in actuality. It’s impossible to mitigate every risk in life and it’s economically impossible to shut schools down for extended periods of time. If so the government will need to provide daycare and how is that any better than keeping schools open. The affects of kids not learning far outweigh the risks of COVID-19 

deelirious · 4 months ago

Out of 5,700 covid related deaths in Sweden, only a little over 200 occurred this far in July. Sweden clearly has developed herd immunity without ever shutting down. Further, statistically the flu is more deadly to persons under 20 than covid.  Developing research also indicates it is much more difficult for children to transmit covid-19 to adults than from adult to adultThis doesn’t even begin to address how children will stay home in single parent working households or even dual parent working households. Or the ramifications of children learning at a much lesser rate for a year. Saying to shit everything down indefinitely is an easy political cop out but probably isn’t the most realistic or best option 

deelirious · 4 months ago

Here's an interesting fact, private schools will open on time, they have a plan, are organized and ready. Why aren't public schools? What was the DOE and HSTA doing for the last 4 months, when we endured a shortened end of the school year? On line learning coming out of the public schools was a joke, unorganized, unfocused and confusing. On the other hand my friends with kids in private schools, seemed on tract and where prepared. We all know that private schooling in Hawaii comes at a great cost. We also know that many parents bare this sacrifice exactly for the reason we witness now, the union fighting with the school system/state over yet another issue (not pay for once). The fact the unions run the state and the politicians elected. It's unfortunate that the only way to deal with the incompetence and corruption it to buy your way out with a private education. Hawaii's state schools will always be burdened and held down by those that run it.

wailani1961 · 4 months ago

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