The UK government plans to start opening schools, nurseries and day care on June 1. There is a very large movement of resistance, led by school staff and parents. I have three thoughts that might be useful.
First, the worst danger is not that children die. It’s not even that vulnerable staff die, which is much more likely. The worst danger is that a child catches a light case and takes the virus home and a mum or dad with an underlying condition dies, and the child lives with that for seventy years.
Some people wonder if children can transmit that disease. If you wonder too, ask yourself two questions. Why do you think governments all over the world closed the schools in the first place? And – have you ever caught a cold or flu that a small child brought home from school?
Nursery schools and day care
Second, the education unions are putting up strong, united and very public resistance to the government’s push to reopen the schools. But there is a flaw in the unions’ strategy. They are calling on union members in school to resist the reopening school by school, forcing the school management to try to prove that it will be safe. This strategy may force most schools to concede. It may also force the government to change course.
But there is a real danger that staff in the least organised schools may fall through the cracks. This is particularly true of nursery and day care workers.
The government says that three year groups in primary schools should come back on June 1. But they say that all private nurseries and day cares are supposed to reopen on June 1. If those workers do not go back, they lose their jobs. Social distancing is impossible.
In nurseries and day care, you cannot stay two meters away while you change a nappy. You cannot stay two meters away from a two-year old. You will pick up a crying baby. You cannot make three-year-olds stay two meters apart. The odds are that at least one child will vomit on you, and the poo of another one will get on your hands.
There is danger here to the workers. And there is danger some children will give the virus to a parent.
Teachers believe they will be paid if the union at their school refuses to go back. I think they are right. Very few private nursery and day care workers have a union. They believe they will be sacked if they do not go back. They are very low paid anyway, and have little savings.
The education unions are fighting school by school. That may win, and at least helps nursery workers. But nursery and day care workers also need some sort of fight across the board, because they are so few and week workplace by workplace. That means they have to get organised and start protesting in public and online, so everyone can see them. It also means they need vocal support from all other school staff.
Just as it seems everyone is now discussing opening the schools, we need everyone discussing the nurseries and day cares.
Third, on Tuesday the casino workers union in Las Vegas organised a protest drive down the strip by 10,000 workers in cars. The casinos plan to reopen, and the workers were demanding a series of safety measures which would effectively stop the reopening.
A bit like education unions in England, actually.
There is a lesson from Vegas. In a time of lockdown, it is possible to have a mass demonstration with safe social distancing. If you have popular support, there is nothing the authorities can do to stop you.
I personally know quite a lot of teachers. Most of the ones I know have some sort of access to a car.
I leave you with these three thoughts.
Jonathan Neale is a writer, a grandparent and a climate activist. He tweets @NealeSayles.