Friday July 10, 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and AASA, the American Association of School Administrators (the School Superintendents Association) released a joint statement urging a safe return to school for the 2020-2021 academic year. The organizations stated in part, “Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue reopening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers, and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”
As school leaders we heartily agree with this sentiment. We firmly believe in the power of learning built on a foundation of relationships and social interaction. We also recognize that the ability for children to physically attend school allows our local workforce to function and our community to thrive. We want to see our students in our hallways and classrooms, on our stages, and on our fields and gym floors. We want to share in the joy of community building and learning together. Yet, we also see the great risks presented to our students, staff, and families if we aren’t purposeful, diligent, and consistent in practicing essential COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies and practices.
Today, we must recognize that cause and effect are almost never closely related in time. As a community, the decisions we make–and the actions we take–over the next four to six weeks can either greatly increase or drastically reduce the likelihood of any on-site learning for our students in August and September. We know parents, employers, and our students want our schools to reopen. We need everyone in our community to take purposeful steps to make that happen.
Here are simple steps we can all take to maximize the potential for reopening our schools:
Protect yourself and others from COVID-19
- Stay home as much as possible and avoid close contact with others.
- Wear a cloth face covering that covers your nose and mouth in public settings.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Practice social distancing
- Buy groceries and medicine, go to the doctor, and complete banking activities online when possible.
- If you must go in person, stay at least 6 feet away from others and disinfect items you must touch.
- Get deliveries and takeout, and limit in-person contact as much as possible.
Prevent the spread of COVID-19 if you are sick
- Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care.
- Avoid public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
- Separate yourself from other people and pets in your home.
Recent Winneshiek County history shows us the impact of our collective action. Between May 30 and June 27, our county logged zero new positive cases of COVID-19. Since June 28, our county has logged 26 new cases. A June 10 Governor’s Proclamation lifting restrictions on businesses and mass gatherings, social gatherings around the Fourth of July holiday, and increased summer travel are all likely contributing factors to the return of positive cases to our county.
We still have the power to change our trajectory, to right our path, and to take the actions necessary to make on-site learning a reality for this school year. We know our parents, students, and community need us soon. Today, we are saying we need you now. Thank you for your support of Decorah Schools, and thank you for doing your part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community.
Ron Fadness, Decorah Community School District Board of Education President
Mark Lane, Decorah Community School District Superintendent of Schools
Steve Peterson, Decorah Education Association President