Safely Opening Schools during the COVID-19 Pandemic

There may only be one safe method where we can open schools for children during the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

Why do school parents want to send their kids into a building which has 3,000 other students in it, hundreds of which have deadly COVID-19 virus? Just to play football or basketball? I do not understand parents intentionally endangering their own children's lives.

On November 18, 2020 the Chicago School District admitted that they had already had 72,000 children test Positive with the COVID-19 virus. Three days earlier, the AAP Nightly News announced that a million children had already tested Positive for COVID-19 virus in America. On January 4, 2021, Nightly News said that Colleges and Universities have already had 400,000 American students test Positive for Covid-19. On January 19, 2021, AAP News announced that the United States has already gotten 2.5 million children and adolescents test Positive for Covid-19, with 211,000 of those children newly tested Positive in just this recent week! As a parent, you STILL want to send your child into a traditional school?

None of those news reports mentioned how many Teachers have already been infected, but already more than one-third of all Teachers have decided to Retire due to the serious COVID-19 danger.


This is actually a rather old-fashioned idea, but it is amazingly safe. A hundred years ago, public schools were nearly all the same, one-room school houses. There was one Teacher and 6 to 10 children of various Grade levels.

A modern variant of this can make wonderful sense. Several local small vacant homes and some chain link fencing could separate groups of children and their Teacher from external disease carriers and even local bullies and gangs. Nice Recess playground, too!

The children can each live at home and walk each day to spend the school day with a trusted Teacher.

It might make sense that a dozen local parents meet in one of their houses, to discuss this possibility, and the safety of all of their children in school. A local School District may even buy and install chain-link fencing, and cleaning and updating an old house.

Computers are involved for some subjects and for some Grade levels. A Teacher may not need to Teach some subjects, such as Geography or History or Art, where most of the available information would be provided by computers during a student's "Geography Hour" and "History Hour". The Teacher might be most suited to Teaching English and Spelling and Math (essentially "reading, writing and arithmetic"). The students would each have their own personal computers in school, which might be different for Second Grade Spelling or Seventh Grade Composition. The Teacher may provide very different and very unique personal Lessons for specific children. A School District could distribute the students in a variety of ways, like K-12 or K-6 and 7-12 or K-8 and 9-12. Students who shared similar interests, like in math or science or Nurse/Doctor could benefit socially by attending school around other students who had similar interests.

This might be very advantageous to the children. When I Taught Ninth-Grade High School Science to 150 students in Classes of 35 children, I found it really a problem that a quarter of my Ninth-Grade students only had Reading Scores of 2.0 (they could only read at Second-Grade level). None of them could understand the Ninth-Grade Science textbook! In one class, I sometimes found myself teaching toward the one girl who had a 7.0 Reading Score, as she could actually read and understand much of the textbook. Other times, I had to try to Teach toward my 2.0 or 3.0 level students, who had no chance of understanding the High School General Science textbook. One of my Ninth-Grade girls only had a Reading Score of 0.7 (she could not even read at First-Grade level!)

If I only had 6 to 10 students, of virtually any age or Reading Score level, and we could rely on many modern computer software programs much of the time, they could each call me over to get a clarification on a subject at their own level.

At 9 am, I might take temperature readings of their foreheads, where a student might be sent home if any danger of COVID-19 seemed present. Every few days, all year, I would take COVID-19 mouth swabs to confirm or deny any virus presence. The students and the Teacher(s) could all be assured of excellent health safety, at all times. Each student would benefit from both computer learning and the personal touch of a very familiar Teacher at all times.

I don't think that any other approach has any realistic possibility of both health safety and educational advancement of each student.

In any School District, there are many vacant, small homes that might be used for this purpose.

Modern corporate thinking of schools which have thousands of students could still exist, possibly for Shop Class and Music Class. Both this "one-room school house" approach and a more modern "corporate mega-school operation" could simultaneously be operated (in different locations). Individual parents could select from several possibilities for their children. The students of each one-room-school house, along with all of their relatives, are pretty certainly clear of COVID-19! A few phone calls to each of the (few) students' families would make Contact Tracing of any COVID-19 issues of all the relatives quick and easy.

Each parent could receive a student list and even a Teacher list of the prospective attendees, where they (or the student) could request a change to a different school. For example, a student who was into math could select a school where the Teacher was also math-friendly. Students who hoped to become Nurses or Doctors could select a school that emphasized appropriate classes and students.

Each School District can make many unique decisions. For example, a District might arrange to have a specific one-room school house which intentionally has students who enjoy playing basketball. That school might have a Basketball Coach as Teacher, where the computers are even more important regarding History and Geography and Math and Science. The idea would be that a full education would be provided, even better than in traditional high schools.

I had taught High School science at Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois for four years.

My experience makes me nervous about operating a High School which has 3500 students and 320 Teachers and 250 Maintenance people in the same giant building. Sure, if absolutely everyone behaved properly, the Medical safety of the occupants might be acceptable. But in 2020, we have watched thousands of young people getting together to party, like on beaches or at giant house parties. Doesn't anyone realize that if and when even one person encounters the COVID-19 virus, then very suddenly, thousands of community residents, including elderly people, may all come down with it. Or, will each School District decide to completely close down for 14 days of quarantine? After a few weeks, will the School Boards decide that they have to transition to computer-centered home schooling, possibly for years? I have a feeling that after a few such episodes, many School Districts may see the merits in this computer-centered, one-room school house approach to Public Education.

In the first few days of trying to open traditional schools in late summer 2020, we are already seeing horrific news casts. After just two days of a school in Georgia being open, they are saying that already they have 900 positive tests of COVID-19 tests. Think about this. How will they ever do Contact Tracing tests, where they will ever know exactly who is infected and who will be infected tomorrow. A huge modern school of many thousands of students will simply become an infection source, until they have to close the whole school down for 14 days and probably longer.

In contrast, consider any one of a multitude of one-room-school houses. Each morning, the one Teacher checks the forehead temperatures of each of the ten students (and also himself/herself). If one student shows a high forehead temperature, or a positive mouth swab, then that one student will instantly become the center of Contact Tracing efforts. A few phone calls and every person who has been in that house will be invited for mouth swab tests. On any given day, a total of maybe 50 people (relatives) might have potential COVID-19 danger, and this Immediate Contact Tracing will narrow it down to the half-dozen people who live in that one house. The other students of the one-room-school house, along with all of their relatives, are pretty certainly clear of COVID-19!

If a same student is noted as positive more than once, then it might be evidence that the student may not safely belong in the School District. Since nearly all of the students would likely wear their mask and observe social distancing, all of those other students in the one-room-school house can probably have a pretty normal social life while within the one-room-school house. That is not possible with any of the other plans being considered.

Carl W. Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from University of Chicago

FFF USA Thornton (Fridays for Future) (Illinois)

301 South Hunter Street    Thornton, Illinois     60476     cj@mb-soft.com

Cozy heated 11-room house near Chicago

This house has had quite an amazing history. The Village of Thornton was the first town incorporated in Illinois, in 1834. Chicago was incorporated 3 years later, in 1837, as a town of 4,000 people. In 1856, this one room school house was built in Thornton. I experimentally proved this in 1965 when I took a piece of the western wall sheathing wood into the University of Chicago for a scientific Carbon-14 radioactive dating test. The University test proved that the trees and logs for this one-room school house had been chopped down in 1855. This first photo below (from March 1946) was taken from the east. At that time, the building was essentially was still the 13'7" by 20'8" one-room school house size it had been built when it was built in 1856. The (east) door through which students entered and left through seen here was from the adjacent (north-south) Jane Street, with the Thorn Creek immediately behind it. About 20 feet further west (right) was the school-house's Outhouse (which my mother called "Martha") In 1871, the huge Chicago fire burned most of the Cook County property records before that. However, this one-room Thornton school-house was used continuously as a school from 1856 through 1904. There are many scuff marks on what is now the hardwood kitchen floor, which show the location of each of the sets of four metal desk legs, which shows that in various years between 1856 and 1904, from six to ten desks (and therefore students) were studying inside this one-room school house. This one-room school-house was not used as a school after 1904, and the building and its 3 city-lot playground land was sold to a young couple. They lived in the small house for 42 years, until they eventually sold it to my parents in March 1946 (for $1200). My father had 4 children, and so he constantly found the need to build more rooms onto it for the next 15 years, until the modern house eventually became the 11-room house which it now is.

So this specific house was actually one of the very first one-room school houses in the United States (1856). I am now considering again making it help solve the COVID-19 virus problem today as a one-room school-house again.



This same one-room school house as it was built in 1856, and used as a one-room school house from 1856 through 1904.

This same house when it was a One-room Schoolhouse Side view of the 1-room schoolhouse near Chicago

   

The official Cook County, Illinois Plat Map of Thornton, which includes part of Thorn Creek.

The Cook County Illinois Plat map of Thornton    

Detail of the Official Cook County Plat Map of Thornton.

A portion of the Cook County Plat map of Thornton
This one-room school house has always been in the lot between Hunter Street, Maria Street and Jane Street (lots number 1, 2 and 3). And adjacent to the horseshoe of Thorn Creek.