‘Do You Want Your Child To Be Alive, Or Educated?’: School Board Member Pushes Back On Criticism Of Delayed School Reopening

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Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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A public school board member pushed back on criticisms about schools delaying reopening by asking parents whether they value their child’s life over their education, a video of the meeting shows.

Margaret Lorber, who serves on the Alexandria City Public Schools board in Virginia, suggested that people who have been “reading research that says schools are not transmitting agencies” of COVID-19 “are definitely in another frame of mind” when approaching the risks of the pandemic, and rhetorically asked parents “do you want your child to be alive, or educated?”

“I think we have to acknowledge that there are members of the community who simply don’t buy … they’re reading research that says schools are not transmitting agencies. They’re definitely in another frame of mind,” Lorber said, beginning her comments during the virtual meeting.

“I’ve been totally committed to the path we’ve taken, and granted, it feels very difficult to say for sure what’s going to happen,” Lorber continued. “I agree, I think [ Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gregory C.  Hutchings, Jr.] was right when he said he gets into trouble when he says he seems to be predicting doom. But I think the fact of the matter is we have to live with this incredible uncertainty. Do you want your child to be alive, or educated?”

Earlier in the meeting, school officials described the school’s reopening phases, which will allow for K-12 students with disabilities to begin returning to classrooms Jan. 19. The phased reopening will not open to all students in grades pre-K through 12th grade until Feb. 16. The reopening plans were delayed in November until January due to state-wide restrictions.

Data accumulated globally has shown that infections did not surge when schools reopened. Even when community transmission was high, coronavirus outbreaks in schools were still uncommon, especially if precautions were in place, according to Nature.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also released a report in December that showed that coronavirus infections among children in Mississippi were not linked to schools and daycares that required masks, and has said that in-person learning is “in the best interest of students, when compared to virtual learning.”

The nation’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has also noted that “the spread among children and from children is not really very big at all, not like one would have suspected,” and said that bars should close while schools should open. 

“I think at this point in our lives, you have to speak out and take a position, Lorber added. “And I don’t fault those in the community who’ve spoken out and said that all of this CDC stuff is bunk, that they don’t agree with the approach we’ve taken. But I think that the careful, gradual approach that we’ve been taking is the safe approach.”

Parents and caregivers across the country have grown uneasy as months have gone by with no established return date for their children to return to school, or repeatedly delayed dates. 

In Washington, D.C., a Washington Post report found that teachers unions and city leaders stalled school reopening for several months despite evidence that students were falling behind, as unions continued to make more demands and the city largely kept parents in the dark about the future of their children’s education. (RELATED: REPORT: DC Teachers Union And City Leaders Stalled Reopening Despite Evidence Students Were Falling Behind)

Some districts that have reopened for in-person learning offer the option as part of a hybrid learning model, allowing students to receive in-person instruction for part of the week. 

“It may look like we’re making up a bunch of dates because we know, they think, that COVID is never going to go away,” Lorber said. “Well, the fact is with vaccination, all the steps that are happening, some of these dates will become a reality.”

Lorber added that if the rate of cases went down, classrooms are ready for students to return to. But many people in the community, she says, don’t understand that schools need to “take many steps” to prevent COVID-19 spread.

“I think we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re going to give an answer that’s going to satisfy everyone in the community. There are many people in the community, not many, but some, that do not accept the premise that you have to take many steps in order to prevent the spread of this pretty serious pandemic.”