DV’s safety plan does not protect our kids’ health or education

| 20 Aug 2021 | 04:59

Hello board members and Dr. Bell:

My name is John D. Johnson. Some of you may know me as one of the candidates running for the board of education. However, tonight I am removing my campaign hat and instead I stand before you as an extremely concerned community member, taxpayer, and representative for the more than 350 people who signed a petition asking for a common sense mask mandate. But of utmost importance I stand here as a parent of three amazing children attending the DV school system. I currently have a 6-year-old, 13-year-old, and a 14-year-old attending school in the district. That means I have one child in elementary school, one in the middle school, and one in the high school. As a result, what happens in the school impacts my family on virtually every level. I have had an opportunity to review the district’s safety plan and I must say that I have some significant concerns.

The safety plan does not include a mask mandate in our classrooms or hallways.

The safety plan does not include an option for Zoom learning for our students.

It indicates that the school will basically “do the best that they can” to practice social distancing measures.

There is little guidance in terms of how any of the students will access education should they need to quarantine or should they become ill.

Additionally, I have seen correspondence in which Dr. Bell indicated that there would be even “more lenient” contact tracing measures this year.

I can only assume that these more “lenient” contact tracing measures are a veiled attempt to avoid having to have students and staff quarantine, in an attempt to avoid potential shutdowns.

Even more concerning to me is that fact that I as a parent and a taxpayer was not given a chance to provide any input into this plan. I was led to believe that the parents would have an opportunity to provide input into the safety plan before it was approved by the board.

Furthermore, I am very much up to speed with what has been going on with the Delta variant of Covid-19, as I work in a residential facility with children that are at a much higher risk of contracting this virus than most populations and part of my job is to interpret statistical data.

I will note that in the residential facility where I am employed we work with individuals on the Autism spectrum. We have an extremely high risk population living in close proximity, many of which have compromised immune systems, have difficulties understanding social distancing and often need to be taught appropriate hygiene methods, such as washing hands after going the bathroom. I will also note that the Covid death rate among similar residential facilities is 400 to 500 percent higher than what is seen in the typical population. I say all of this to point out that we have had fewer cases of Covid at my place of employment than there were school closures in the DV school district throughout this entire pandemic. I will add that at my place of employment we have over 1,700 employees and serve over 1,200 consumers, with many of our children being bussed in from various school districts around the state and yet we still managed to have fewer cases of Covid than DV had school closures.

How did we manage to keep our doors open, while DV closed? Simple, we followed the guidance of the CDC.

1. We employed universal masking for all employees and parents entering our buildings.

2. We practiced social distancing amongst our staff.

3. We required staff and parents to take their temperature before entering our buildings so we could quickly identify obvious symptoms.

4. We did actual contact tracing and informed staff members and families promptly of potential infections.

5. We met with doctors, our bosses, administrators, and families regularly to provide updated guidance.

6. Most importantly, when CDC guidance changed, we changed with it.

This all helped us to keep the rates of spread way down.

At this time the Delta variant is currently two to three times more transmissible than the original Covid strain that impacted our schools all of last school year and part of the previous school year. This variant is overwhelmingly impacting children. There are roughly 2,000 students in the DV school system plus a bunch of pre-school children who do not have the option to get vaccinated at this time.

In unvaccinated populations; like children ages 0-11, this new variant has an R-Naught rate of 6-9. Meaning that amongst unvaccinated populations, for every person that is infected, this virus will spread rapidly, infecting an average of 6-9 more people.

To make matters worse, we live in a county with no hospital and no urgent care. This presents a significant problem when our children get sick. Many of the other local hospitals are at capacity or approaching capacity, so when the students in our district get sick, either with Covid or some other illness, we will literally have absolutely nowhere to send them.

I am extremely concerned that according to the current safety plan, DV is doing much less than they were last year in terms of mitigation measures. Given that we have a variant of this virus that is much more transmissible than when this all started, this will most certainly lead to increased spread of this more contagious variant and increased school closures.

Without a Zoom option, quarantined students will not be able to get access to a proper education, and quarantined teachers will not be able to teach our students.

Without robust contact tracing procedures and temperature checks of all people entering the school building, it is just a matter of time before this virus spreads amongst our children, particularly those who do not have the option of getting vaccinated at this time.

According to the safety plan, parents can choose to use DV Cyber School to educate their children. However, it is my understanding that the cyber school option will cost the district roughly $5,000 per student or roughly four times as much money as it would if those students were able to simply attend live school with the appropriate safety measures in place.

While of course money is not my primary concern, I am still concerned that if too many families choose the cyber school option, our taxes will increase at a rate that most families could not afford to pay and this will ultimately impact the quality of education for all of our students.

I have recently viewed a petition with over 350 signatures in which many of the parents who signed that petition will most likely be pulling their kids from live school in favor of a cyber option due to the lack of actual safety measures in the current safety plan put out by the district. Obviously, these parents would much prefer to keep their children in a typical school setting, but are simply afraid to send their kids to school without the same or similar safety precautions that were in place last year.

At this time, I strongly urge the district to reconsider putting more robust safety measures in place, at least until all parents have the option of getting all of their children vaccinated or at least get to have some input into the roll out of the safety plan. In my opinion, these safety measures should include the following:

Mandatory masking in the hallways and classrooms for all students and staff that are capable of masking; mandatory temperature checks for any individual entering our schools, including students, school staff and parents; a Zoom option for students who are unable to get vaccinated at this time, a clear outline indicating how the district will ensure social distancing on our school busses, hallways, and classrooms, and a clear plan for contact tracing.

Without these measures in place, it is an absolute certainty it will lead to increased school closures, increased taxes due to parents pulling their children out of school in favor of the less preferred option of cyber school, potential lawsuits toward the school district, and most importantly, students and staff needlessly getting sick, hospitalized, or potentially dying.

I know we all want are students and school staff to return to school to resume a more normal routine, but we also need to do so in a safe fashion, not only to keep our kids safe, but in order to actually keep or schools open.

So let’s review:

1. Universal masking for all employees and parents entering our buildings: Not in the district’s safety plan. Is it too difficult to implement? It shouldn’t be. We have dress codes. If my kid comes to should with a poop emoji on his shirt you can send him home, but the district can’t or won’t enforce a commonsense mask mandate because it is not a popular decision.

2. Practicing social distancing amongst our kids: School says we will do the best we can. I argue that you can do a hell of a lot better.

3. Zoom option not in our safety plan, even though 30 percent of our kids Zoomed last year, and this is essentially what allowed the school to keep their doors open. So instead of thanking those students and parents of those Zoom students, you are slapping them in the face by taking it away and making social distancing harder than it already was last year in the process.

4. Temperature checks: Not in our safety plan. Is asking students, staff and parents to participate in temperature screenings before entering our buildings so we could quickly identify obvious symptoms too invasive? I would say that asking kids, staff and parents to walk through what basically amounts to an arch to see who has a temperature so you could not allow them into the building without getting others sick with the flu, cold, and yes potentially Covid is a no-brainer.

Kids need physicals before they enter certain grades. You need to know how tall they are, can they see, can they hear, and basically what color their poop is, but temperature checks are too invasive. Are temperature checks too expensive? Nope. I consult in other districts as a BCBA, districts with much more meager budgets who make temperature stations a priority because they want to make sure that people who are clearly ill do not enter the building and endanger the health and lives others. DV approved a $1.5 million buildout to the high school, a buildout that is nowhere near completed, a buildout that will benefit our high school students someday, but does nothing to protect our more vulnerable students ages 0 to 11 who cannot get vaccinated today. If we can afford that, we can certainly afford to spend some money on temperature check stations to keep all of our kids safe. So it’s not too invasive, and it’s not too costly for other districts, that only leaves one logical conclusion. The district does not want to know who is sick because then they would actually have to recognize it is a problem. This would lead to contact tracing, Covid testing and liability to the district, so better to just stick our heads in the sand. I mean, why else wouldn’t the school want to know if someone has a temperature. Why wouldn’t the school want parents informed promptly of potential illness?

I have kids in all three buildings. If one gets quarantined, the rest don’t need to be. They share rooms, bathrooms. How smart do the members of the board think this virus really is? It won’t just not jump from one of my kids to the other because it would be inconvenient for the school. Would the board members be okay if I dropped my two other kids off at their house to watch them under that circumstance, I mean according to the board, they don’t need to quarantine. Jack O’Leary, you brought this up at a previous BOE meeting and I know were passionate about it.

I ask all board members to do the following:

First, think with your heart.

Pam L, you have your own daycare, most if not all of the board members have your own kids. How would you feel if something happened to your kids because you did not do everything in your power to protect them?

That is all I am asking for mine an everyone else’s kids. Under the current safety plan kids will get sick, kids will get hospitalized, kids will potentially die. As BOE members, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents do you want that on your conscious, I know I wouldn’t.

Next, think with your wallet.

Jack F., you understand the numbers; you are a numbers guy. Without revisions to the safety plan, many of the families will move their kids to cyber. Almost 400 signed a petition, $5K a pop for cyber adds up pretty quick, 50 families $250K, 100 families $500K. The district prides themselves on keeping taxes low, and the rest of the taxpayers will not be happy if you cost them money.

Lawsuits will cost money: Lawyers win either way. They can be bloodsuckers (sorry to any lawyers in the audience or on the board). Parents on both sides of the issue will file lawsuits if their kids get hospitalized or worse. No matter what happens, win or lose, this will cost the school money, lots of money. The BOE caved over textbooks in a matter of what — 90 minutes? — and I have to stand up hear and argue why it is financially prudent to keep kids alive.

Next, think about what will happen at the voting booth.

Pam Felicia, and Jessica. The three of you run on the platform of keeping schools open. I know, I saw the beautiful signs. I would argue that this should also include educating our kids and keeping them safe. We all want schools open. To argue otherwise would be crazy, but with this proposed lack of a safety plan, you are not keeping the schools open, all you are doing is opening the doors and waiting for kids to get sick, which will disrupt their education and potentially cost lives, and will probably not get you as many votes in November as you think.

And if all else fails, use your brains!

All the safety measures I proposed work. We have the tools, we just need to have the desire to use them

Social distancing measures work.

Providing kids with a Zoom option will help with that.

Temperature checks work.

Actual contact tracing measures work.

And we know that masks work. We have been using them for years. Nobody can argue that they are 100 percent effective, but neither are cancer drugs and we use those. If you went to the doctor and he told you your kid had cancer and there was a drug that could give your kid a 60 percent chance of survival, would you not jump on it? Masks are not tyranny. There is nothing in the Constitution about masks, I know I checked, but there is the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all of which are hard for a kid to do if a kid is hospitalized or dead.

For all those out there that say we don’t need masks, I have a right to see my kids face. Or we don’t need masks because they are traumatic to our kids.

My daughter is six years old. And yes I love seeing her smiling face every day. Would I rather not see it in a mask, of course, but I would be more traumatizing for her siblings and the rest of us to see her on a ventilator or worse, in a box, because the board of education refused to put in precautions that we know work.

Roll call hearts, wallet, voting booth, head, and for a moment, stop putting your personal and political views ahead of the safety, health and well-being of our kids.

1. Masks until on masks until all students have a choice about vaccination.

2. A Zoom option for our kids.

3. Temperature check stations for all who enter our school buildings.

4. A clear plan for actual contact tracing.

Eight of you on the board voted for this safety plan without input, one member of the board of education was not present.

I deserve to see and the rest in attendance both in person and on Zoom, deserve to see where you stand on each one of these issues.

That way all the families can hold not only the district legally responsible but each board member legally responsible as well when something happens to their kids for your failure to enact a common sense safety plan.

John Johnson