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CT teachers’ demands to close schools would have ‘catastrophic impact’


Early in December, just before the first Connecticut health care workers were administered the newly approved Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, a coalition of public school employee unions sent Gov. Ned Lamont a petition demanding that he close schools until they implement a set of COVID-19 safety protocols designed by Connecticut Education Association (CEA).

Even while insisting upon closure of all schools, the unions demanded Lamont mandate a full-pay-no-layoff policy for all public school employees for the full school year. Really?

What a striking contrast between the selfless health care workers who have been treating patients hospitalized with highly contagious cases of COVID-19 for ten months and the 14,000 petition signers, who, only since September, have interacted with school-age kids, who present the lowest risk of transmission of all segments of the population.

Never mind that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams have all said schools should be open. Fauci said so in early December even as the current surge of the virus was well under way.

To his credit, Lamont has listened to these federal experts and ignored the union petition.

Experience has shown children to be at minimal COVID risk. Of Connecticut’s 6,000 COVID-related fatalities, only one was of school-age, a teenager with Lupus.

Of the 225,000 national COVID-19 deaths for which the Centers for Disease Control has demographic data, there have been only 130 school-age deaths, or one death for every 100vschools of the nation’s 131,000 K-12 schools. During the 2019-2020 school year, more kids died of the seasonal flu (195), according to the CDC. Of the 95,000 total COVID-19 hospitalizations — i.e. serious cases — for which the CDC has data, only 900 have been school-age children.

But do schoolchildren spread the virus? That is a fair question for adult school employees.

As a starting premise, it is only logical to assume that contagiousness varies with the seriousness of cases of an infectious disease. On this basis, it is only logical to assume that schoolchildren, who rarely suffer serious cases, are minimal spreaders.

However, schoolchildren do become infected. So, they are carriers. But do carriers necessarily spread the virus? Maybe. Some studies have found schoolchildren carry high viral loads, even when asymptomatic (30-40 percent of all infections are asymptomatic).

It may seem logical that the higher the viral load, the higher the likelihood of spreading, but the studies do not reach that conclusion. Indeed, one early study cautioned “It is noteworthy that the presence of viral RNA in specimens does not always correlate with viral transmissibility.” Others say their findings “strongly suggest that asymptomatic people are unwitting broadcasters of the virus,” and that “We should not discount children as potential spreaders…” They do not say children are spreaders.

Furthermore, as one epidemiologist stated “Because asymptomatic people do not cough or sneeze, it is possible that they are less efficient at expelling the virus than those clearly unwell.”

The CEA document (“Safe and Successful Schools Now”) setting forth CEA’s demands for COVID-19 safety protocols cites several of the “suggestive” studies. Significantly, Dr. Fauci and Director Redfield called for schools to be open after the publication of these studies, about which, presumably, they were aware.

Nevertheless, the CEA petition insisted all schools go fully remote from Nov, 30 to Jan. 18, unless its statewide safety protocols were implemented and schools were fully staffed.

The CEA ignores that local school board decisions about in-person versus remote operations have involved excellent safety protocols and delivered superb results in preventing in-school incidence of COVID.

Among CEA’s demanded “statewide standards,” is “Institute a moratorium on annual standardized testing for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year.” So, CEA doesn’t want to measure the impact of closing schools upon kids’ learning?

Naturally, there are wider implications of the union coalition’s demand. Kids need to be in school, so parents can work, so, in turn, they can feed, clothe and house their children. Should kids starve and go homeless in order that school employees run no risk of getting the virus — while enjoying a full-pay-no-layoff guarantee?

Thankfully, the 14,000 petition signers are a small minority of the approximately 44,000 public school teachers in Connecticut and the tens of thousands of additional school employees in staff and support positions, most of whom are surely dedicated and courageous.

The petitioners would have the state override local control of schools. They would callously ignore the catastrophic impact of closing all schools and reverting to remote-only operations, in which the state’s lowest income workers with jobs that they cannot perform from home, and its poorest schoolchildren with the least access to remote learning tools, would suffer the most.

Red Jahncke is president of the Greenwich-based consulting firm The Townsend Group Int.


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