I woke up this morning to the news that American children would be coerced to risk their health as a sacrifice to get the economy going again. Even the wrathful God of the Israelites took only the first born.

It called up a memory from a long-ago faculty meeting. The school was being assailed by the public for being a drug hot-spot. In frustration, one of the teachers said, “Let’s take the students on a field trip to the art museum, or to McDonald’s or someplace. Then we can say THEY have the drug problem.”

She was being facetious, but there is no real line between the community and the school. For every hour spent at school, students spend about two at home or with their friends. Whether it’s drugs, attitudes or infectious diseases, public schools are the most democratic “of the people, by the people and for the people” institution we have. Most school boards have more members per capita than city councils. Volunteers and PTOs make them a hotbed of civic activity. When they work right, students meet and get acquainted with people they would never get to know in any other way.

You could no more have a safe school in a pandemic hot-spot than you could have an outbreak at the school without transmitting it to the families and homes where they live.

This was on my mind as I drove my tractor down to the neighbor’s to mow her field. Beside the road I noticed the stone rectangle, about 16’x30’, all that was left of old school #4. It struck me that, back in those days, if there were a local outbreak of an infectious disease, and knowing what we do now, maybe it could have been kept small scale. Create mini-schools so students and teachers only meet with the same one or two busloads of students, isolated from the other groups.

We might even experiment with old one-room teaching techniques, and stop pretending every 3rd-grader should be taking the same spelling test each week. Add daily temperature tests, COVID testing and infection trackers, and maybe there is a way for parents, teachers and students to feel schools are safe again, if we can keep the community outbreaks under control.

TIM BUTTERWORTH

72 North Hinsdale Road

Chesterfield