Open schools vs. preemptive closures

by Tom Deighan

Once again , schools across our nation are preemptively closing due to COVID-19.  Yes, closing is always an option for Duncan Public Schools, but we will stay open as long as we can safely do so. We will continue to face this pandemic as we have from the beginning. If we close a single site or the entire district, we will close for a defined period due to actual conditions. Our children need the structure, safety, and normalcy of open schools. We have faced this threat before, and we will face it again, together.  

Hundreds of schools in our nation preemptively extended their Christmas Breaks, and who can blame them? We are in our third school year with COVID, and national educational leaders still exert intense pressure on schools to close, terrifying parents and staff.  Due to endless media reports of school closings, I suspect much of our nation is unaware that schools have been open safely since the beginning of this pandemic.  No wonder parents and educators across this nation are still terrified to fully commit to in-person, full-time instruction in the age of COVID.

We know that schools have been open from the beginning – not just during the current 2021-22 school year but last year (2020-21) – and yes, even during the spring of 2020! Wyoming and Montana reportedly did not preemptively close schools, even as the majority of other states preemptively closed (including Oklahoma.) Yet, by the summer of 2020, we had solid research from Europe suggesting that schools could be safely open, and it was correct. Why don’t we hear about more research and the thousands of schools that have been open safely during all of this? Why don’t we reassure these parents, educators, and students with the evidence available at this time?

We now have literally thousands of models available to reassure fearful parents and educators that full-time, in-person instruction is not only safe but also prevents the negative social, psychological, and academic impacts of long term, preemptive closures. I suspect that parents and educators may be unaware of how many schools have offered full-time, in-person instruction. Even if they are in an open school, I suspect they believe open schools are the exception – not the rule 

Rather than focus on the current slate of closures, perhaps we should reframe our national discussion as we prepare for the 2022-23 school year.  If we can somehow raise awareness of open schools (or just acknowledge them) – we may not have to constantly struggle against the pressure to preemptively close schools. Where are the studies, the examples, the research, and the data about all these schools that have stayed open? Why aren’t national leaders helping parents and educators welcome their students back with confidence?  Where is the proof that preemptive closures have worked? 

The fear and reality of COVID-19 is real.  It terrifies me every day at some level as a superintendent, and closure of our sites or entire district for the safety of our students and staff is always an option. As we prepare for the 2022-23 school year, however, this is the time to settle the issue of full-time, in-person learning versus preemptive closures. 

No school is a model for how to manage COVID, especially not Duncan Public schools, but national experts can surely knit together some best practices from the thousands of schools who have stayed open during this nightmare. Districts who have been open feel alone, and districts who are closing preemptively feel alone. That is not necessary as we face our fourth school year with COVID.  May God protect our schools, children, and staff once again as we enter another fearful time, but may we also face any challenges with confidence, experience and wisdom...for that is how we want our students to face the world.

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com



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United for Oklahoma - September