Schools all over the state are wrestling with the question of whether and how to reopen this fall. Let me make it simple for them. Don’t.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

Maine public school systems have been working on contingency plans geared to the state’s designating communities as green (OK to return to in-person instruction), yellow (best to try hybrid methods) or red (no in-person instruction), depending on the prevalence of the coronavirus. Somehow, the state decided all Maine communities are green. I doubt it.

If I were the commissioner of education I think I’d just go with Code Red. In fact, I think I’d go one better. Just call school off for a year entirely. Take a sabbatical.

We knew way back in March that COVID-19 would not be going away by September, but in our desperation to get back to normal we have acted as if we believed it might, making plans for business and tourism, education and athletics that pretend to minimize the risk but actually ignore the risk entirely.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 63% of parents think it is better to open schools later to minimize the risk of infection. But even if there is a risk of infection, 32% of parents thinks it’s better to open schools immediately so parents can get back to work and kids can get back to school. Two-thirds responsible, one-third irresponsible. Isn’t that pretty much the way things break down these days in American society?

This coronavirus pandemic has become a political football, with Trump and his cronies electing to punt every chance they get. As a result, tens of thousands of Americans have died.


Republicans are in an all-fired hurry to open the economy, send the kids back to school and just pretend it’s not happening. We all want a return to normalcy, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. Everywhere Republican governors have ignored the advice of public health officials there has been a resurgence of the virus.

Over in Europe, the worst is over due to shutdowns, testing, tracking, masking and social distancing, but things just keep getting worse in backward places like Brazil, Russia and the United States. That’s because Trump and his allies have tried to bull and bluff their way through the pandemic. But you can’t get tough with a lethal virus.

Counting on a multi-billion dollar investment in a vaccine to save us before the end of the year? Don’t count on it. There was no vaccine back in 1918 when the Spanish flu killed 5,000 Mainers and there have only been 121 COVID-19 deaths. I expect what it will take is for all those who contract the virus to either die or recover and maybe, just maybe, develop immunity. That’s how the Spanish flu ended.

Gov. Janet Mills has done an admirable job of piloting Maine through the coronavirus tempest. We are doing far better than most states. Just imagine what an unholy mess we’d be in if Paul LePage was still governor.

Mills and state and local education officials are turning themselves inside out trying to come up with an education plan, but if we were smart, we would take a bold approach to both education and the economy. We would go for the shutout. Take a year off. Find a new way to make a living, find a new way to live. A new way to learn. Distance learning is fine if you just need a piece of paper on your office wall saying you earned a worthless master’s degree online, but it’s no way to conduct the important business of kindergarten.

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