empty classroom

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While some HCS Virtual parents voiced their concerns about their childrens’ education during last week’s Horry County Board of Education meeting, another group of parents are fighting to open schools up to five-day, face-to-face learning.

“All of the data continues to support that our children should be in school five days a week,” said parent Ben Greenzweig, who has three children in school in the St. James attendance area.

Horry County Schools is using the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Disease Activity Report, released each Thursday, to determine in what fashion students will attend school. As it stands, students who chose in-person learning will continue with the hybrid setup through next week.

Today’s report, coming out sometime this afternoon, will determine the week of Oct. 19.

Greenzweig said that he relies heavily on data, not science, because science can be manipulated.

“There’s no documented case of a child to adult transmission, at least any that have resulted in any level of fatality,” Greenzweig said. “Thankfully this disease goes out of its way to spare children. More die from flu than COVID-19 and we don’t shut down schools for influenza.”

He’s quite passionate about the data, he said, and said that according to recent statistics compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, there are 18 states in the nation that have not seen a single fatality of people under 20 as of Sept. 10.

“Children are more likely to die of homicides, drownings, or fires and burns than they are from COVID-19,” Greenzweig said.

While he said that he had not seen any documented cases proving the transmission of the virus from a child to an adult, he understands that teacher-to-teacher transmission is possible, whether the teacher has encountered someone at a coffee shop on the way to work, or from someone in their own household as well.

“Those that are at-risk – over 70, or with potential comorbidities – you absolutely have to make accommodations for them. I’m not saying to force anyone to go to work,” Greenzweig said. “If you’re under 70 there is very little risk, especially if you’re maintaining basic hygiene.”

He said one issue with not having children in school five days a week is the “obvious academic implication.”

“Online learning is not learning. I don’t fault the teachers, they are doing the best they can,” Greenzweig said. “You can’t react to kids’ emotions, understand nonverbal cues, or show empathy or compassion. I have a lot of empathy for the teacher community. I am the child of two retired New York City public school teachers. I grew up in a teacher household, I get it.”

Socialization is another big factor, he said, that is impacted by not having a “regular” school schedule.

“Children, especially on the younger side, need to socialize, develop friends, expand their network and understand basic skills like conflict resolution,” Greenzweig said.

There’s also a non-COVID-19 health risk involved, he said, which has to do with children who come from “very challenged home environments.”

“Where there are [usually] opportunities for administration [etc.] to spot abuse and possibly intervene, that’s not happening,” Greenzweig said. “There’s also the mental health impact of isolation. You don’t have to look very far to see the mental health impact on them.”

Greenzweig pointed to a handful of other countries who never closed schools, and he quoted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who said that closing schools was “one of the biggest public health mistakes in modern history.”

Christine Rockey teaches in the exercise and sports science department at Coastal Carolina University, and said she’s been closely following the data for COVID-19 cases and deaths for months.

“Everyone says look at the science. I teach in exercise science. There is so much science that says students should be going back, I don’t understand what science they are looking at that says they shouldn’t,” Rockey said.

Rockey said that in her research within the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the National Center for Education Statistics, only 0.62% of the deaths across the country from COVID-19 were people in the 0-17 age range.

The average age of a teacher is 42, she claimed, which is still in the low-risk range, and that 80% of the deaths have been in people over age 65.

“If you have a comorbidity, I get it. You stay home. The virtual option is there and a lot of people will need it,” Rockey said. “I don’t understand their [teacher’s] fear. I teach the age group that tests positive the most.”

At Monday’s Horry County Board of Education meeting, the board said they were investigating the use of plexiglass guards on student desks, after DHEC gave new guidance that same day that students wearing masks and behind plexiglass could be three feet apart for social distancing instead of six feet apart.

“We want to do everything we can to get them [students] in school, but get them in school in a safe environment,” said HCS Superintendent Rick Maxey on Monday.

Outfitting all the district classrooms with plexiglass could cost upwards of $4.5 million, according to Daryl Brown, chief of support services, who also said the district would request some funding assistance from the state department.

Across social media, opinions vary on how these unprecedented times are affecting the education of Horry County Schools students. There are factions who want to continue relying on DHEC numbers and guidance, those who wish to stay virtual, and those like Greenzweig, who believe their children should be back full-time.

Many of those groups have formed their own Facebook groups for discussion, and the group that wants kids back in school full time has over 500 members.

Board chairman Ken Richardson has previously said he plans to follow the numbers and not send kids back into schools full-time “until it’s safe.”

Richardson said Monday that there’s no way they can put all children back in school right now and still meet the six-feet requirement for social distancing that is one of the most-mentioned things in DHEC’s guidelines.

Maxey said much of the same during Monday's meeting, saying that the district analyzed some area classrooms and estimated that some classrooms could only safely hold only 14 students and keep social distancing regulations intact.

“If DHEC … wants to change their guidelines, the minute we think it’s safe, we’re going to put these kids back,” Richardson said Monday afternoon. “The problem is, there’s a lot of people who are impatient, and they think the board is sitting around doing nothing. I’ve never been on a board working as hard as we are working. We’re getting a lot done, and they don’t see it [behind the scenes]. What they want is the end result, and we can’t give that to them just yet.”

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(1) comment

Frank Sterle Jr.

A 2007 study (its published report is titled The Science of Early Childhood Development), which was implemented to identify facets of child development science accepted broadly by the scientific community, forthrightly and accurately articulates the matter: “It is a compelling task that calls for broad, bipartisan collaboration. And yet, debate in the policy arena often highlights ideological differences and value conflicts more than it seeks common interest. In this context, the science of early childhood development can provide a values-neutral framework for informing choices among alternative priorities and for building consensus around a shared plan of action. The wellbeing of our nation’s children and the security of our collective future would be well-served by such wise choices and concerted commitment.”

The same study-report also noted that, “The future of any society depends on its ability to foster the health and well-being of the next generation. Stated simply, today’s children will become tomorrow’s citizens, workers, and parents. When we invest wisely in children and families, the next generation will pay that back through a lifetime of productivity and responsible citizenship. When we fail to provide children with what they need to build a strong foundation for healthy and productive lives, we put our future prosperity and security at risk … All aspects of adult human capital, from work force skills to cooperative and lawful behavior, build on capacities that are developed during childhood, beginning at birth … The basic principles of neuroscience and the process of human skill formation indicate that early intervention for the most vulnerable children will generate the greatest payback.”

Although I appreciate the study’s initiative, it’s still for me a disappointing revelation as to our collective humanity when the report’s author feels compelled to repeatedly refer to living, breathing and often enough suffering human beings as a well-returning “investment” and “human capital” in an attempt to convince money-minded society that it’s indeed in our best fiscal interest to fund early-life programs that result in lowered incidence of unhealthy, dysfunctional child development.

While some may justify it as a normal thus moral human evolutionary function, the general self-serving Only If It’s In My Own Back Yard mentality (or what I acronize OIIIMOBY) can debilitate social progress, even when it’s most needed; and it seems that distinct form of societal ‘penny wisdom but pound foolishness’ is a very unfortunate human characteristic that’s likely with us to stay.

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