This op-ed was written on July14th and published on July 25th in the Florida Times Union through the “USA Today” news network as a guest columnist. The same day this essay was published, a large protest was held at the administrative building for the Duval Public School System. I wrote this essay out of deep concern about the total disconnect between what schools are planning for safety measures and the solid basic medical recommendations of the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The Times Union changed the title for my essay to “School System on bad path with virus.” I think their title is an understatement.
Here is the original essay from the Florida Times Union…
“School Systems that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it!”
We need the eyes of everyone in the country focused upon us in Florida. In many of our largest cities, we are heading for our own version of the 2020 fall semester covid public school disasters that occurred in Georgia and elsewhere. With one difference, our disasters could be far bigger because our cities are far bigger.
Jacksonville, Florida, is an excellent example of the loaded gun barrel many of us are staring down. Like last year, right now, we have covid running rampant in summer camps with non-vaccinated kids mixing with vaccinated unmasked kids causing shutdowns and quarantines, giving us a preview of what will come if schools are not opened following CDC guidelines. We have delta, which is over 200% more infectious and dangerous spreading everywhere. We have Florida ranked with the second-worst infection rate of all states. In Duval County, Jacksonville, we have only 40% of the population fully vaccinated, and that particular needle is unfortunately not going up. We have people thinking and acting like the pandemic is over when it is nowhere near over for that 60% that is unvaccinated plus the immunocompromised, which means it is not over for anyone. On a map of hot zones, Duval is the hottest infection spot on the East Coast, with every measure of infection and hospitalization shooting up like scalded cats.
In Duval Public Schools in the prior school year, we had at least 2,498 students and staff infected with covid. This was before the delta variant, and with mask mandates, social distancing, and virtual classrooms, keeping the number of students in physical classrooms artificially low.
Now, in the middle of all this history repeating itself, during a raging delta pandemic for the 60% who are not fully vaccinated, we have the Duval County Public School System once again acting like a political weathervane instead of a safe place for reading, writing, and arithmetic. Just like it did last year before its 180-degree reversal, the Duval County Public School System has proudly announced on its website that it will not follow the most important number one basic CDC guideline for K-12 schools. The CDC clearly states that anyone who is not vaccinated needs to wear a mask. The Duval Public school System seems to think it knows better than all the leading health experts in the world and will not require masks for the unvaccinated.
Do you recall the scenes last year from the Georgia schools closing down within days of opening because they made masks optional? Well, the same is going to happen here because the Duval County Public School System is not requiring masks for the 60% or more of all students and staff who are not vaccinated. Unless the Duval County Public School System changes course, we are heading straight for the same rocky shoals that sank the first schools that opened in Georgia last year.
Setting a school system’s educational policies taking public opinion into account is acting responsibly. The same is not true when it comes to setting a school system’s health policies. It is the very definition of uneducated to ignore history, scientific evidence, and medical advice, and instead, bow to the magical thinking of people who are not medical experts. How can an education system that is unable to learn from history and past mistakes be trusted to teach our children? Magical thinking is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results just because we wish it were so. We do not live in Oz. Can we all please just agree on that, or better yet, just get vaccinated. Because the only way we will end this pandemic in our country is if most of us act responsibly and get vaccinated or wear a mask.