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Schools’ deadly dilemmas come via Arizona’s COVID-19 spike

Kindergarten teacher Maggie Peterson reaches around a safety shield while giving a reading test to a student at Stark Elementary School on October 21, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

As we contemplate a big spike in the number of coronavirus cases in Arizona, I would like us to consider some other numbers while deciding whether to close our schools again.

Those numbers are: 111 and 43.

  • 111 (according to the Centers for Disease Control) is the number of Americans aged 0-17 who have died from COVID. That’s less than 0.05% of the US’ total coronavirus-caused deaths. Nine Arizonans under the age of 20 have died from COVID.
  • 43 is the number of Arizona teens who have taken their own lives during the pandemic. When you compare those suicides to Arizona’s COVID-caused deaths among children, it’s an almost 5/1 ratio.

This year’s 43 teen suicides are six more than Arizona had last year.

Six more, so far.

I say “so far” because there’s more than a month and a half to go before 2020 ends. And mixed into those weeks will be untold missed opportunities for kids to confide in their favorite uncle, aunt or grandparent because they won’t be here for the holidays.

If schools close down again, the potential for more teen suicides surely goes up and the mental health of all our children goes down.

I’m hoping and praying – and sweating bullets over my kids’ school staying open because my kids are thriving thanks in large part to their amazing teachers. Teachers who are even more amazing because they are essentially teaching two classes at the same time: the physically present students and the online learners.

Because kids aren’t at great risk from COVID, the biggest school district dilemmas arise from keeping schools open to keep kids mentally healthy while keeping teachers, staff and the larger community physically healthy.

Nationally recognized infectious disease specialist Dr. Simone Wildes told Jayme West and me this morning that school districts need to “make sure that schools are equipped [and] staff have all the necessary equipment in order to keep everyone safe.”

While stating that districts need to consider positivity rates within their own communities while making decisions about school closures, she also said that the mental health of our children needs to be top of mind because, “at this time they’re really very vulnerable so we really have to try to keep them in school.”

Some school districts are trying to decide whether to use their county’s case numbers or look at the number of cases within a zip code to decide on closing the entire district or whether to close individual schools.

When you factor in the large number of kids crossing school boundaries within their own home districts and still others coming from completely outside district lines, it becomes harder and harder to make these decisions.

As I argue to (safely) keep my kids’ school open, I have to acknowledge this once again: Students, parents, teachers and especially school administrators are facing beyond-tough scenarios and questions — and they aren’t finding any good answers.

That’s because, right now, only slightly-less-worse answers actually exist.

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