Let’s turn over our school re-openings to Walmart, Costco, Target, et al.

These businesses—and many more—are learning that if they want customers in the stores, then those customers have to feel safe, or at least what passes for feeling safe these days. And that starts with wearing a face mask and proceeds to safe distancing, extensive cleaning, and more CDC-suggested tactics.


Yesterday my wife and I were in a store—a small gift shop whose owner we know. I’m still skittish about stores (I told my wife “buy everything—we’re not coming back.) but I felt that the owner had made an effort to make customers comfortable. As we were checking out I asked how things had been, and she seemed pleased that there had been no confrontations with people asserting their Constitutional right to be an idiot—my words not hers.


But she was also worried about a surge in the fall—the virus coming back to Connecticut. I said we were lucky to be surrounded by responsible states that might serve as a buffer, and added that if more states acted responsibly, we might have a handle on this and not have to worry about the fall. Then she said the oddest thing: she asked why nobody had thought of that.


I bit my tongue and instead of screaming just reminded her that there had been plans like this dating back to early March, but that the federal government (aka the impeached president) had left it up to individual states, and many of them were led by ignorant and incompetent governors. (I didn’t mention DeSantis by name. Was I wrong?) I also didn’t lay the blame squarely on the president, but I think she caught my drift.


Two points here: first not everyone knows that this could have been handled better. You can blame Fox News, but I still believe that major network broadcast news has fallen short—has not educated people to what experts say could have and should have been done.


And second, when it comes to making profits, businesses act. "No mask, no service." Hand sanitizer everywhere. Plexiglass dividers. Signs saying don’t touch merchandise you don’t plan to buy. Floor markings to separate customers. Customer limits. And on and on. Meanwhile people like DeSantis (remember him from a previous paragraph?) make believe there is no virus that's killing more than 1000 Americans a day and just orders schools to reopen.

Walmart wouldn’t do that. Costco wouldn’t do that. CVS? Starbucks? Kohls? Target? No. No. No. No. They know there are malcontents out there and they’ve decided to deal with it by keeping them out of their stores as they would any other pest that endangered their customers. Either that or they don’t have a business.


That same philosophy must extend to our schools. Excuses like kids don’t get very sick or Trump’s moronic reference to sniffles won’t cut it anymore. We've seen the stats—Covid-19 may not kill younger people with the same ferocity as it does the elderly, but the lasting—and maybe permanent— negative effects remain unknown. And now that it seems even less likely that a bout with the illness provides immunity, a school business plan is necessary. As is an apology from me, or maybe a retraction.


When I was teaching I used to debate with people who claimed schools should be run like a business. I always maintained that teaching was more art than science, and the profit motive destroyed the aesthetics of it. All these years later let me offer a reassessment. The classroom should indeed be run as a classroom, like always; but if running the actual school like a business in the Covid-19 era means keeping kids and teachers safe, then bring on the hand sanitizer and the plexiglass and the masks in school colors whatever else is needed to keep the educational process flowing. And if schools need greeters like Walmart, hire them too.


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