Roper: COVID is the iceberg that sinks the public school system

By Rob Roper

COVID-19 is going to change how many things are done around the world even long after it’s gone, and some for the better. Business leaders are already blown away by how the virus has spurred technology innovations and changes to corporate culture. Reforms that would have taken years or never come to fruition at all are happening overnight in Lockdown Land. Telemedicine is taking off, for example, and companies are embracing the benefits of telecommuting to save on office space and travel expenses.

One casualty of the COVID innovation revolution is going to be the public school system. Last spring this “unsinkable” juggernaut of political, financial and cultural power, steaming along at full speed, hit the iceberg. This fall that ship will break apart.

On Thursday afternoon, the House Education Committee held a three-plus hour special meeting to hear from school officials about how they are preparing to open for the coming school year. The list of witnesses included several superintendents, representatives for teachers and principals, and the secretary of education. (Note: no parents!) The short answer to the question, though, is they haven’t a clue, and it won’t end well.

July 30 House Education Meeting

The principals don’t know how many staff they’ll have. One superintendent did a survey and 50% of her staff were either high risk for Covid or lived with someone who is. Teachers are waiting to hear what the plan is before they decide if they’ll take part or part ways. Principals don’t know how many students they’ll have. Education Secretary Dan French testified that parents filing to homeschool kids are officially up 75% over last year, but the one agency employee who handles this is overwhelmed, and that number is likely already larger and is likely to keep increasing as parents learn more about what’s really in store for the new year.

Libby Bonesteel, superintendent of schools, Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools, opined that the schools are totally unprepared for the health aspects of this crisis. She pointed out that the symptoms of COVID-19 are symptoms school kids exhibit all the time. What are they supposed to do if a student has, for example, diarrhea — the number one COVID symptom for young kids — also brought on by a bad mix of junk food? Assume it’s COVID? Shut down the school? If multiple kids exhibit symptoms such as fever, which she said is normal for four or five kids to exhibit at a time in a school, how can the school isolate them all? There is no space and outside doesn’t work in January. What if a child or teacher actually does test positive for COVID? There are no answers to these questions. “I understand the safety guidance,” said Bonesteel, “but when it’s put into reality in a school building, it’s just not realistic.”

Watching these three hours of testimony — and every parent with a child in the public school system should watch — it’s clear that the public school model of putting lots of kids in higher population classrooms is incompatible with a pandemic. Neither parents nor teacher it seems are comfortable with this structure. Parents are seeking other options, such as home schooling, micro-schools, “pandemic pods,” or hiring tutors for just their own families.

The state needs to divert funding away from the model that doesn’t work and support the new models that do. And this needs to happen quickly, especially for low income families that don’t have the resources to pursue other, safer, more reliable and effective options. Parents and kids can’t afford another year of uncertainty, instability and no learning.

House Ed Hearing Part 1:

House Ed Hearing Part 2:

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

15 thoughts on “Roper: COVID is the iceberg that sinks the public school system

  1. Great story Mr. Roper. New information always a potential gamechanger. And yes – if there is an executive action mandating all students have access to 5-day in-school learning – your prediction could explode – if funds are removed from noncompliant schools and appropriated directly to parents. $10,000. for each child? Cha-ching much?

    Removal of Fed portion could cascade into several options including the bringing back of one-room schoolhouse? Entrepreneur options exist for retired or other educators to start popup schools? Along w/Scotus rule mandating state funds appropriated for education be used w/o discrimination combined w/Fed portion could be huge.

    • I totally agree with you James. All these years I have heard that the school and police unions are too strong so we have no power over them. If that was true, the liberal run cities couldn’t defund their police forces. So the taxpayers were once again lied to and it is time to defund the schools in VT until they stop taking advantage of the taxpayers. They should not be getting raises every year and we don’t need so much staff in each district. Act 46 needs to go also. The taxpayers were deceived and they should have to answer to all the lies we were told.

      Our school budget was voted down twice this year and I hope it gets voted down again on August 11th. Slate Valley Unified School District was too greedy asking us to vote on two budgets that would have raised our property taxes astronomically.

      We should vote one time and if it is voted down, the people have spoken and the board can try again next year. Now they are just trying to wear the taxpayers down. One school board member said to me “How can you look our children in the eye if you vote no to a $60M bond?” This is on top of the yearly budget that raised my education taxes over $200. last year!! They are out of their minds!

      What did they do with the money that would have gone to pay for subs, paraprofessionals, school building expenses, etc.? Where is this money?!

  2. This is an example of how the chameleon-like education establishment changes its colors to keep parents and their children under their collective thumbs.

    “Revamped Vermont Guidance for Schools Could Allow Three Feet of Distancing Instead of Six”

    OK. I have six feet. Now I have three feet. Do I have two and a half feet…two and a half feet…going once, going twice…sold to the NEA.

    • Will the experts and the politicians ever admit that the virus has run it’s course. We are down to near zero among 600,000 Vermonters!!!

      We are down to negligible “accurate tests”, yet they continue to claim the overreactive junk quicky ‘tests’ such as the prisoners being being brought back to Vermont, 100% of the junky tests came back infected, with not a single symptom among the whole lot.

      It is sad that many already sick in nursing homes, were push closer to death by the virus, but not children or school kids, and very few working folk

      It is time for this go go away gently, and let Vermonters live and thrive and enjoy life again.

      • I find it funny that we have to wear masks to go shopping, follow the arrows in the supermarkets, etc. but someone can squeeze every piece of fruit and vegetable in the case and that’s okay.

  3. Rob, why would this august group want parents involved? All they would do is raise the relevent issues those in charge would prefer to avoid. After all, the discusion’s primary subject is how to deal with the virus as it impacts on educating our young folks, so why would you want to listen what their parents have to say??

  4. If public schools are not at a 100% ” In class ” then I expect a pro- rate on my
    school tax……No school no funding !!

    Any and all parents need to look at Home Schooling, Mini Neighbor schooling
    or a parocial school.

    It’s time to educate your kids, not indoctrinate you kids by liberals, you’re not
    getting your moneies worth from the current school system !!

    Wake up people.

  5. There will be plenty of money available for schools after all police departments are defunded.

    No more police in schools
    Fewer children in schools
    Fewer teachers in schools
    Almost no sports in schools
    Much less use of school buses
    Much more home schooling, using ZOOM type programs

    After an anti-virus drug becomes widely available at little or no cost, more and more normalcy will return everywhere.

  6. That COVID is the iceberg that sinks the public school system…is wishful thinking.

    OK, in “preparing to open for the coming school year…several superintendents, representatives for teachers and principals, and the secretary of education … haven’t a clue, and it won’t end well.”

    What else is new?

    For decades, the education establishment has overseen the demise of Vermont’s youth. Just saying “the state needs to divert funding away from the model that doesn’t work and support the new models that do”, is also nothing new.

    That “parents and kids can’t afford another year of uncertainty, instability and no learning” is redundant. Parents and kids have had decades of “uncertainty, instability and no learning”.

    Again – what else is new? What’s your plan, Mr. Roper? What are parents supposed to do? Specifically.

    Keep in mind that most parents and their children, especially working parents who barely have enough time to work and support their families, have no idea what they can do, let alone figure out how to do it. Is ‘homeschool’ their only alternative? How in the world can they do that – and hold down their jobs?

    Covid-19 isn’t going to change anything – unless parents can learn what reasonable alternatives they have.

    • Post Script: By the way – ‘The State’ already provides a mechanism “to divert funding away from the model that doesn’t work and support the new models that do.

      For grades 7 thru 12, consider Vermont’s current education law as a starter.

      16 V.S.A. § 822. School district to maintain public high schools or pay tuition
      (c)(1) A school district may both maintain a high school and furnish high school education by paying tuition:
      (A) to a public school as in the judgment of the school board may best serve the interests of the students; or
      (B) to an approved independent school or an independent school meeting education quality standards if the school board judges that a student has unique educational needs that cannot be served within the district or at a nearby public school.
      (2) The judgment of the board shall be final in regard to the institution the students may attend at public cost.

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