On Tuesday morning, all the children on the “A” schedule at Washington School stood for just a second on the curb while teachers pointed a digital thermometer at their heads. They asked the parents if they had gone through the morning checklist regarding the children’s safety. If all questions were answered correctly and the temperature was in range, children were admitted to school. It was a bit surreal. Every child, teacher and parent wore masks of varying styles, and some of the students seemed excited to be there. I wonder how long it will last. We’ve already seen a school in Corinth lose a large number of students to contact with a positive-tested associate at the school. There have been six positive tests in the district and more than 100 students have been quarantined. Keeping children apart from one another and observing all needed precautions to avoid spreading COVID-19 is going to be difficult at best and impossible at worst. But, I’m happy the children are back in school. They have been at home, in front of a computer, for the last six months. If our children were already turning more sedentary as the Xbox took over their lives, these last six months haven’t helped. There’s also the chance this will only last a few weeks until the kids are back at home because of a positive test in the school. It could create a cycle of on again, off again in-person learning. There’s no doubt going to school in person is important for children. It’s important for their parents as well, but so many in our community want to avoid sending the children to school during this pandemic. According to a poll conducted on our website, an overwhelming majority of people who answered were in favor of keeping their students at home. Greenville Public Schools’ polling showed the same and yet all the private school children are on campus today. None of the public-school children are. The private-school sports are already holding games. The public-school sports haven’t been able to practice. Private schools have decided to take the risk in bringing their children to class. Some of the public schools in Greenville have decided to stay away from campus until next year. Perhaps I’m conflating two ideas, but the private schools have to rely on tuition paid by students who come to class. The public schools, GPSD in particular, are paid by tax revenue and were recently the beneficiaries of millions of dollars in funds specifically designed to make it easier for students to learn at home. For each student in GPSD, the district has more than $700 to spend to create an environment conducive to safely learning at home. Plans are being developed to purchase technology — WiFi hot spots and computers — for any student who doesn’t have access to the Internet or a computer to use. While those public schools are seeing a decrease in revenue from taxes, 8% in July alone, they should also be seeing a decrease in expenses related to having the children in the buildings. But, I bet they aren’t. Our schools in the Delta now have influence on almost every part of a child’s life. They feed them breakfast and lunch. They teach them to read and write. They let them run and play. And, now they will be providing Internet access and technology to connect them globally. We all know the Internet has been a boon to this world, but it is also a dangerous place for children to visit. We have seen in the past how school programs providing free technology to students hasn’t actually gone as well as hoped. In fact, most have been an abject for everyone but the person peddling the technology. I, frankly, don’t see this going any other way. There is absolutely no substitute for in-classroom learning, especially for a district who by any measure is producing a majority of students who are behind in their studies. The effect of this school year’s attempt at distance learning will be yet another year of failing grades and lowered rankings for GPSD. It’s tough to make the decisions to require students to come to school, especially for a school district composed of more than 90% African-American students — a population seeing an outsized infection rate from COVID-19. There is no doubt this virus has had more widespread effects than just on those who were infected. Though they may never be infected, some of our school children may never recover.
Jon Alverson is proud to be publisher and editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 335-1155.