Commentary: Will schools open safely despite the pandemic?

Commentary: Will schools open safely despite the pandemic?
August 12
12:25 2020

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

I loved school when I was a student and a teacher. There was something about the opening of school each year that was exciting. It never got old.

As a student, it was probably because I would see a lot of my friends again. While it may sound strange, I enjoyed the routine of school. There were set times for everything so all of us knew what was going to happen.

When I became a teacher, it was the joy and exhilaration of watching students learn on their way to becoming successful. There was a certain satisfaction that I received by being a part of their lives. If you were or are a teacher, you know what I mean.

COVID-19 has shown us just how important and valuable teachers are. Some folks took teachers for granted. Yet those same folks are extolling the values and virtues of teachers. What a difference five months can make. Will it make more college students want to become teachers? We will see.

This pandemic has created major problems with opening schools this year. What was once a seamless transition from summer vacation to school opening is now fraught with challenges from all fronts. Now, the federal government has gotten into the school opening business.

How can that be? The current administration has threatened to withhold funds if the schools do not open on time. The Secretary of Education has echoed these same sentiments.

I do not think school systems are intimidated by this warning. School systems have students and teachers in them. They know what is best for their individual situations. They will not bow down to political pressure because they are concerned about the health and welfare of all involved. It is my strong opinion that schools that open without the proper protocols in place will be the first to have problems.

Georgia is an interesting case study. When it comes to opening schools, Gov. Brian Kemp says he wants kids back in school because they are safer there from a nutrition standpoint, child abuse and human trafficking perspectives.

However, Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest in Georgia, will have all virtual learning. Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said, “I think we all understand that face-to-face instructions is always a preferred model, but that needs to be done at this time with a pretty good assurance that students and staff will be safe. And we did not feel like this was the case,” he told NPR in an interview on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York says that schools there will open and have in-person classes. The school system has 212,296 teachers. By any barometer, that is a lot of teachers.

Parents, schools, students and teachers have been cast into the national spotlight. They do not want to be, but they are. Take for example, Hannah Watters, a high school student in Georgia.

She is a student at North Paulding High School in the Atlanta area. She posted a picture of her high school’s crowded corridors with only a few students wearing masks. She was immediately suspended because school officials say that she violated the student code of conduct. However, the suspension was overturned and she is now back in school, according to her mother, Lynne Watters.

“I would like to say this was some good and necessary trouble,” said Hannah Watters. Sound familiar?

There are no easy answers and one size fits all solutions. However, there must be some guiding principles. At what cost do you put students and teachers in a classroom? We know this disease spreads like wildfire.

Will online learning be with us for a while? That is the question school leaders are grappling with now. Pushing forward, masks and hand sanitizers will become a part of school supplies. Our country will exercise its creative spirit.

That means school systems, too.

James B. Ewers Jr. is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator and can be reached at

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