Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) hasn’t thought about Bill in years. He was a member of GOT’s high school class; he died in the spring of our junior year. He wasn’t a friend as he lived in the neighborhood across the county that was bused into the school in 1973 to achieve desegration of the de facto housing patterns as we shared no classes, but he was a close friend of many of GOT’s classmates.

As we prepare to open schools in this pandemic year, Bill’s memory comes back as we learn that Governor DeSantis wants schools open, come sickness, suffering, or death. (That’s a reworking of the cliche ‘hell or high water.’)

Bill was murdered in the school parking lot.

It was a drug deal gone wrong. A group of teenagers was in the area asking who they could buy marijuana from. Bill was a minor dealer, the type who begins by sharing with his friends, then friends of friends, then others.

These teenagers weren’t looking to buy; they wanted to rob and they had a gun.

Friends of GOT in pyschology class reported that when they heard the pop-pop-pop from the parking lot, the teacher flew across the room, threw open the window, and jumped out.

It was too late and we mourned the loss of a classmate.

Fast forward several months. GOT was talking to his principal, who had this to say, “For two years, I begged the district to install a fence and gate that I could lock every morning to keep public traffic out of the parking lot–to stop the traffic driving through the school’s student parking lot to avoid a stoplight. But they said it would cost too much money and refused to approve my work order.”

Shortly after Bill’s murder, the school district installed a fence and a gate around the parking lot. It took a tragedy before they would act.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

Here we are in the middle of a pandemic. Nationally, regionally, and locally, politicians and people are demanding we open our school buildings and bring the students in.

It hasn’t worked well in all cases. Reports in the news show that covid cases are showing up and schools have quickly closed in response. See here, here, here, and here. There are many more–almost a new one every day.

In GOT’s district, predictions vary as to how long the buildings will remain open: one, two, or three weeks before identified infections in students and staff force the district to go back to remote learning such as we did in April and May.

But then, Governor DeSantis weighs in: Schools should not close just because someone, student or staff, was positive and in the building. He favors a more ‘surgical’ approach, “If one person is sick, don’t shut down the whole building” and “Somebody is on a school bus and they’re ill, then you send them home, and if parents have a child that’s ill, then you keep them home.” He worries about mental health.

What about everyone else on the bus, Governor? Do we be proactive and ask them to also stay home until we know if they are positive? It’s called contact tracing.

Or do we let them in the school to infect others if they are positive but not showing symptoms until the entire population is infected? An infection can move quickly through a secondary school as students attend multiple classes and mix in the hallways.

By the way, Governor, it’s also detrimental to student mental-health to get sick, to carry guilt feelings of causing others to get sick (children tend to do that even if they are not responsible), and to worry about bringing the disease home.

For someone pretending to be concerned about the mental health of children, you really know little about it–as little as you know about how children learn and the pedagogy teachers engage in.

Why must this state and its political leaders (and Florida is not alone) ignore the sound scientific, medical advice of our leading experts in epidemics?

What tragedy will it take until Governor DeSantis takes the common-sense measures recommended by world experts?

That brings us back to Bill B. and his tragic death. How many deaths will it take? How high must the body count go until Governor DeathSantis** reverses course and installs a fence and locked gate around school populations by ordering Florida to follow CDC advice as well as allowing local departments of health to advise schools again?

*Not his real name.

**When this happens, the governor will have earned his nickname.

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