“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding all danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively.” Niccolo Machiavelli
Anne Arundel kids are headed back to classrooms in November. That’s a win for children, parents, and science over the teacher’s union, the Pittman administration, and politics. It should’ve happened in September. Here’s why it didn’t happen then, and finally has now.
CDC guidelines published on July 23 indicated it was prudent (lower risk of transmission) to reopen schools for classroom instruction if Covid-19 cases in a community were below 20 new cases/100,000 people. On August 27, Governor Larry Hogan announced even more stringent guidelines ( 15 new cases/100,000 people). Hogan noted every school district in Maryland met these guidelines, and was “fully authorized to begin safely reopening” with hybrid (part on line, part in person)or in person classes. Hogan’s admonishment that, “there is no substitute for in person instruction” paraphrased exactly what the American Pediatric society said about the need get kids back in classrooms safely and quickly.
But the CDC’s and Hogan’s prudent guidelines, formulated by medical experts in epidemiology, did not avoid all danger in the opinion of County Executive Steuart Pittman, School Superintendent George Arlotto , County Health Officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman, and the Anne Arundel County Teachers Union. The “scientists” at the teacher’s union claimed it was “too risky” and “unsafe” to resume in person instruction. Pittman and Arlotto supported them. Dr. Kalyanaraman, who isn’t an epidemiologist, said schools wouldn’t reopen until Covid-19 new cases were at 5/100,000 people. The prudent, scientifically formulated, medical guidelines of the CDC and Hogan administration were ignored, and a political course of action that kowtowed to the teacher’s union, by impossibly attempting to avoid all danger, became county policy.
Less than six weeks later, Dr. Kalyanaraman told the school board he now believes 10 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 is safe. He didn’t say why his initial threshold of 5 new cases/100,000 people to reopen school was unrealistically low; or why the CDC/Hogan’s prudent criteria of 15 new cases/100,000 people is still unacceptably dangerous. Dr. Kalyanaraman simply creates “scientific” benchmarks, and changes them, at his whim, without explanation.
The sad fact is that Anne Arundel County has met the CDC’s and Hogan’s guidelines for lower risk classroom instruction since June 22. At a minimum, the county should have begun planning for hybrid instruction when the CDC published their guidelines on July 23; and implemented it when Hogan announced his guidelines on August 26. That’s exactly what parochial and private schools did, even as Kalyanaraman erected bureaucratic roadblocks in their path. They followed the science, accepted the medically determined lower risk, and acted decisively. Their kids have been safely in classrooms since August and September. Meanwhile, public school kids have been subjected to pathetically inadequate online instruction, because Pittman, Arlotto, and Kalyanaraman followed the political scientists at the teacher’s union.
Why did Pittman, Arlotto, and Dr. Kalyanaraman flip flop on their 5 new cases/100,000 “requirement” to reopen classrooms, after saying anything higher was “unsafe?” Because successful parochial/private school reopening, viewed alongside Pittman’s other inconsistent reopening policies, made the politics of reopening public school classrooms glaringly evident. Parochial/private schools ignored Pittman’s guidelines, followed state/CDC guidelines, and reopened safely and successfully. Meanwhile, after public pressure, Pittman permitted kids to sweat, pile on, and tackle each other playing football, but not to sit six feet apart in class with masks on; and to sit in movie theaters, but not in class. That’s not consistent, or scientific. It’s political, and it’s obvious.
Science isn’t political and people aren’t stupid. Avoiding all risk isn’t possible, but letting our kids safely go back to their classrooms is prudent, if we leave politics out of the equation, let medical experts calculate the risk, and follow the science.
Herb McMillan, a former West Annapolis PTA president and Bates math tutor, represented Annapolis in the Maryland House of Delegates for three terms.