Home Minnesota Educator President’s message: We owe it to each other to keep our distance during graduation season

We owe it to each other to keep our distance during graduation season

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President Denise Specht

High school seniors and their families aren’t the only ones who will miss the big, traditional graduation ceremonies this year.

Educators will miss seeing students they’ve known for years walk across the big stage and into the next phase of their lives. Losing that is heartbreaking.

However, Education Minnesota supports the guidance of the Minnesota Departments of Health and Education for school districts to cancel traditional graduation ceremonies this year.

The joy of a typical graduation is outweighed by the terrible consequences of spreading COVID-19, and we must acknowledge the risks of these events are not the same for all our students’ families.

No one really knows how much the re-opening of the economy will accelerate the spread of the disease by graduation season, but everything we do know about COVID-19 argues for avoiding large gatherings.

Even one infected person in a room can spread the disease, both through the air and by contaminating surfaces like doorknobs, handrails and bathroom faucets.

Does anyone believe a crowd could get into a school auditorium or stadium without touching anyone or anything?

It’s true the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions tend to get sicker than children, but there’s new evidence that children without symptoms may bring the virus home and spread it.

We also know this is a disease no one wants. Even in mild cases, people suffer fever, chills, back pain, diarrhea, uncontrollable coughing, gasping for breath. It’s like having an anvil on your chest, one patient told The New York Times. Another compared the body pain to losing a fight to Mike Tyson.

It’s even worse for the people who need hospitalization. More than 700 Minnesotans have been admitted already to intensive care units and state health officials are modeling a sharp increase through July.

Then there’s the financial cost. Health care isn’t cheap in America, as everyone who has negotiated a labor contract knows. A common seven-day stay in the ICU for COVID-19 can easily mean more than $70,000 in medical bills.

COVID-19 is a danger to every Minnesotan, and no one should be forced or pressured to attend a graduation ceremony that puts themselves at increased risk of catching the virus. The reward isn’t worth the consequences and those risks change by race and how much money you have.

This disease is simply more dangerous physically and financially for students who live in households with their grandparents, or with an adult with a pre-existing condition like heart disease, or who lives in a family without health insurance. In each case, families of color tend to be at higher risk for devastating outcomes than white families.

Canceling traditional graduation ceremonies was one of the most difficult decisions of a difficult year, but it was the right call for everyone who is concerned about the health of their community and who cares for equity in education.

Minnesotans have always made the choice to watch out for each other, no matter where we’re from or what we look like. We do it every time we slow down on an icy road. It’s one of the things that makes our state great.

Let’s keep it up during this long winter of a pandemic and celebrate the accomplishments of our seniors, but only equitably and from a safe distance. We will get through this…


Twitter: @DeniseSpecht

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