Press Release: July 23rd, 2020
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ICYMI: Dave Min Pens Op-Ed in the Orange County Register condemning the OCBE’s vote to reopen schools
IRVINE, CA – TODAY – Irvine, Calif. — EARLIER THIS WEEK, the Orange County Register published an editorial written by Dave Min, a UC Irvine law professor and candidate for California State Senate District 37, condemning the Orange County Board of Education’s vote to reopen schools. Dave Min calls the symbolic vote a grossly irresponsible public relations stunt, but uses the vote to lay out his own recommendations for how and when schools might reopen.
Once again, Orange County is international news, not because of our beautiful beaches or our strong economy but because our political leaders insist on adopting reckless anti-science policies in response to COVID-19.
To be clear, the Orange County Board of Education’s (OCBE) vote to resume in-person teaching will have a very limited impact, applying only to the roughly 3500 students it directly oversees. The decision as to whether or not to resume in-person teaching and under what circumstances is one that will be made by each individual school district.
That being said, this vote, even if mostly symbolic, is still grossly irresponsible. As a parent of young kids in public school, I believe we can and should have a discussion about how and under what circumstances we should resume in-person instruction. But to call for reopening as we are experiencing soaring COVID-19 infections, with NO SOCIAL DISTANCING OR MASK REQUIREMENTS, is anti-science lunacy.
So ignoring what amounts to a massive public relations stunt by the OCBE, when and how should we reopen? I want to offer some very preliminary guidelines that I think are appropriate, with the caveat that these should be subject to revision based on science and data.
First, as a threshold principle, in-person instruction of any significant scale should only occur when the local community has reduced COVID-19 to manageable levels. As the recent experience of Israel (which reopened all its schools in May with limited precautions and was forced to shut down its schools shortly thereafter) illustrates, reopening schools while COVID-19 is still widely prevalent in the local community is likely to be a disaster.
Second, any in-person instruction should be implemented with mandatory social distancing and mask requirements, with sufficient resources to ensure these requirements are followed (including fewer students per classroom and the possible installation of transparent partitions to block aerosol particles between students and teachers).
Third, the move to in-person instruction should be phased in, starting with younger students. While the data is still inconclusive, it appears younger children are less susceptible (but not immune) to catching or transmitting COVID-19. That being said, an overly aggressive reopening of schools could lead to disaster. We should be cautious, opening classrooms in phases, so that we can gauge the risks here and respond accordingly. Children not only are themselves at risk, but obviously also can be transmitters to everyone in their households, including parents and grandparents.
Fourth, any resumption of in-person teaching should be “opt-in.” Parents should not be required to send their children to physical classrooms, and given the high risks of contagion, any decision to move to in-person instruction should be made in consultation and collaboration with teachers and other school employees. They are the ones on the front lines risking their health, and we should be valuing their input and safety.
We all have different attitudes towards risk. But those of us who are more risk-averse should not be required to expose ourselves, our kids, and our households to greater levels of risk than we are comfortable with.
Fifth, and relatedly, online instructional options should continue to be available for both teachers and parents until such time as the risks of COVID-19 are reduced to manageable levels. Resources should be directed towards helping our teachers better adapt to online teaching, including instruction on best practices, and also to ensure that teachers have the hardware, software, and Internet connectivity necessary for online teaching.
With three kids under the age of 10, believe me when I say I am eager for the return of regular classrooms. But if we really want a return to normalcy, we have to first beat back the COVID-19 pandemic, and that requires prudent and smart policies, not just wishful thinking relying on bad science.
David Min is a University of California Irvine Law Professor, father of three, and a former economic policy staffer in the United States Senate and for the Center for American Progress. Min began his legal career at the Securities and Exchange Commission to protect the retirement security of seniors, turning down high paying jobs to serve the public interest. He is a leading economic expert whose research focuses on banking and housing policy.
California State Senate District 37 is located in Orange County and includes the communities of Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Foothill Ranch, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Newport Beach, Orange, Tustin, and Villa Park and is ranked by political handicappers as “Leans Democratic.” The incumbent career politician John Moorlach, an unwavering Trump supporter and anti-vaccination proponent, was soundly rejected by a majority of voters in the March 3, 2020 primary election.