As worldwide cases of the coronavirus surpass 100,000 and community spread begins in California and Washington State, schools around the country have begun to grapple with the reality of the likely pandemic.
Schools, already, are epicenters of contagion. Nearly 300 million children worldwide, according to the New York Times, have been forced out of school due to the coronavirus, with schools in the United States already closing.
A district in Seattle has closed all its schools for 14 days to minimize the spread of the virus. A private school in Georgia closed, in addition to five schools in Philadelphia. In Nashville, a school has closed due to a student’s parent’s diagnosis. The coronavirus won’t spare schools; in fact, schools are already becoming one of the most dangerous points of spread of CoVID-19. Even Los Angeles County public schools have warned that school closures may be imminent.
At press time, there are five coronavirus patients in Illinois. As a result, schools in the area have begun outlining steps to prepare for community spread of the coronavirus in the Chicago area.
Chicago Public Schools emailed students and families with safety protocol, which includes a mandatory 14-day quarantine for any student who has traveled to a country with “widespread community transmission” of CoVID-19. Northwestern University in Evanston canceled all spring break study abroad trips and their annual Dance Marathon celebration in May. DePaul University also canceled all spring break trips. In areas where community spread is prevalent, students are “telecommuting” to school: in China, for example, schools have begun making classes accessible by phone, while universities in the United States are activating “academic continuity plans” that are typically used in the event of natural disasters.
Although Dr. Steven Isoye emailed families on Feb. 28 with advisories about hygiene, and Dr. Karen Ritter emailed students again on March 6, there doesn’t appear to be a plan for what happens if a student or staff member in our district contracts the coronavirus. There has been little to no communication on what our district’s plan is with regard to school closures. Will students continue with scheduled schoolwork by telecommuting? Will seniors still graduate on time? How will incoming freshmen begin school in the fall? These are questions community members have, but they haven’t yet been answered.
There are even basic errors, like the new posters that advise students to use paper towels to dry their hands after washing—despite only two bathrooms in the entire school offering them—that demonstrate how unprepared we are. The rest of the bathrooms have hand driers, which are “bacterial horrors,” according to the Harvard Medical School.
As community spread in the Chicago area becomes more likely, and as the Centers for Disease Control advises all of us to prepare for not “if” but “when” the coronavirus spreads, it is of paramount importance to our collective health and safety that our community knows what to expect from our public schools. We don’t live in an isolated world. Schools across the United States are already closing, without any warning. What if District 219 is next? None of us will know what to expect.