About The Doctor’s Opinion: Using Science Without Leadership Is Our Biggest Concern

I am no medical expert. I am no scientist. I do not know the responsibility, stress, and burden that medical professionals are really carrying with them right now as the country begins to experience this recent surge of a new virus.

I can’t even imagine what the past 8 months have been like for hospitals.

What I am is a public school teacher and an advocate for public schools.

Admittedly, I was a little taken aback when I initially read the words spoken by Dr. Christopher Ohl in today’s report on his comments about school reopenings.

I felt that someone who was at a Wake Forest Baptist presser on behalf of the hospital and medical school should not have inserted an admittedly personal opinion in that arena. I felt that his words did more to polarize the situation than it did in offering clarity and guidance.

It’s also hard not to read these words as a teacher who wants schools to open safely and feel as if you were targeted.

People protesting the reopening of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools are showing a lack of understanding about science, according to Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

…”Quite frankly, there’s a group of people that have been extremely vocal, and they’ve developed kind of a life of their own and a crusade against opening schools,” Ohl said. “There’s a lot of misinformation, disinformation and ignorance of science, quite frankly, in that group. And that will keep groups from reopening in Forsyth County unless they start thinking about it a little bit more.”

Ohl said the pressure from groups opposed to reopening will likely prevent older students from returning to school in Forsyth County in the current school year.

Ohl did not name any specific groups but he appealed to them to “look at real science.”

It is easy to instantly react and demand that Dr. Ohl present us what the “real science” is or what specifically the “misinformation” might be. Not doing so seems to cast more doubt.

But, after a little time to think and digest, I am not angered by his words or his stance or how he may have presented them.

Why? Because he is not an expert of public schools and there is a stark difference between not wanting to reopen schools and wanting to reopen schools safely. I do not think that Dr. Ohl admitted that qualification. Furthermore, it isn’t just the science that teachers are concerned about – it’s the use of science by those in power to make decisions and the real lack of leadership.

In short, there is a lack of trust in this school district. Furthermore, those teachers who are in that particular group Dr. Ohl seems to be referring to in his comments know well that if science is really applied, then a plan could be constructed that honors the science. The plan this system has in place mutates more than a renegade virus and seems to be predicated more on anecdotal data than anything else. I don’t think that’s looking at real science.

Dr. Ohl comments about our society’s decision to open bars and restaurants before opening schools brings up another point.

In his address, Ohl echoed what many others have said about school closures — that keeping them open should have taken precedence over opening bars, restaurants and fitness centers.

Noting he was making a political comment, Ohl said he was speaking as a scientist, doctor and parent, not as a representative of Wake Forest.

“These are play areas for adults, but we won’t open our schools?” Ohl said. “Shame on us as a society. What’s important?”

Makes one think what Dr. Ohl said when those institutions were opened before schools this past fall. I don’t seem to recall. But it creates another layer in this probe applying real science against desires: Are schools as safe now with “play areas for adults” open than they were before those playgrounds were opened? Teachers think about those things.

Furthermore, we are in a leadership void. Not many districts around that are of our size looking for another superintendent to replace one who only stayed for a little over a year and would not have gone to another district without already being in the job hunting arena for many weeks beforehand.

And many would agree with me in saying that our current Board of Education has a very difficult time working with each other.

So, yes there is science. And there is leadership. And there is trust.

Then there is this:

No two schools in this district of over 80 campuses are the same. We have large schools and small schools. We have schools that are all housed in one building. Some in many buildings. We have old school buildings. We have fairly new buildings. We have elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. There are some schools that are Pre-K through 12. There are alternative-setting schools. There’s even an early college. We have schools that draw students from high tax bases. We have schools that draw from high poverty areas. Schools have different student bodies that serve communities with various socio-economic backgrounds.

Now add environmental factors out of our control like the fact that winter is approaching. There’s no historical data about how the country has done with COVID in conjunction with the flu season. Think of the different landscapes and terrains two schools that are only miles apart could have. Think of the state of the ventilation systems from room to room, building to building, school to school. Think of how many windows a school building has. Think of the width of the hallways. All of them.

No two schools are the same.

It’s hard to see headlines in the local paper or on the news about school closings due to the virus and not think think that could happen in other places.

Gospel Light has a student body less than most every public school in our district.

Name another school that draws from a higher tax base in the district. If it hits there, then what about other schools that do not have as many resources?

Additionally this:

Calvary Nov. 11 letter to parents

And then there is this Oct. 26th report from the Raleigh News & Observer:

We had a candidate for Governor this election cycle this past October in the only debate between the final two candidates who said that there had been no outbreaks in private schools. How many people believed him?

Not only are there the reports of schools and districts closing because of outbreaks, there are studies that show children can spread the virus.

Superspreading predominated, with 5% of infected individuals accounting for 80% of cases. Enhanced transmission risk was apparent among children and young adults, who accounted for one-third of cases. 

India has certainly seen its share of COVID cases.

North Carolina seems to be seeing quite the surge itself.

And it seems that the authority that is the Centers For Disease Control keeps changing its own guidelines specifically reference to schools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has quietly removed controversial guidance from its website that pushed for schools to reopen in the fall and downplayed the transmission risks of COVID-19 to children and others.

The documents, one of which was reportedly written by political appointees outside of the CDC, stated that children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults and that children are unlikely to be major spreaders of the virus.

The CDC removed two guidance documents from its website in late October with no public announcement.https://f4118d4625bc2c87da397b17ed46c48b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

When reached for comment, a CDC spokesperson said, “Some of the prior content was outdated and as new scientific information has emerged the site has been updated to reflect current knowledge about COVID-19 and schools.”

I do not envy the position that many medical experts are facing right now. And the toxic dialogue that has stemmed from reaction to Dr. Ohl’s public op-ed has created more division when we so need more unity (especially after this election cycle). Dr. Ohl’s knowledge and work is so needed. He is still a needed leader in my opinion.

But as a teacher in this school system, I want schools to open up safely which is starkly different from the “keep schools closed” mantra that is being so flippantly slung around. I wished Dr. Ohl’s words were not presented as they were because it has temporarily created a more polarizing environment where opposing viewpoints can cherry-pick words and phrases to add to an arsenal.

And I wished that Dr. Ohl could distinguish between what he calls a group on a “crusade against opening schools” from a group who not only has to worry at how policy makers look at “real” science but protect students and teachers from decisions being made by a body that has not earned either the trust or the respect from those who really make schools work.

One thought on “About The Doctor’s Opinion: Using Science Without Leadership Is Our Biggest Concern

  1. Mr Egan….. school IS open for all the kindergartners, preschool, first graders and EC students in this county. Every day we have had in-person classes, the numbers of confirmed cases and quarantined students and staff across the entire county have increased, but none quicker than at the elementary level. If the numbers have risen like they have with just those grade levels returning, should be interesting stats come January when grades 2-12 return. God help us all!


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