Perspective. Few public policy issues are about one's own personal predisposition to live with risk and uncertainty than how we approach the coronavirus pandemic in the coming months. Scientific facts notwithstanding, how each of us evaluates the probability of contracting or spreading coronavirus reflects the weighing of our competing wants of freedom versus security for ourselves and others. My perspective has always been to evaluate risk by calculating probabilities to decide what degree of uncertainty is manageable. Assessing and managing risk, not avoiding it, is life's navigating quest.

So although I am fully aware of the scientific data and grave potential harm of acquiring or spreading COVID-19, I wholeheartedly believe that the risk inherent in opening the Worcester Public Schools (WPS) for in-person classes is manageable, given the absolute need to socially and academically educate our children. It now seems the state will decide for all of the Commonwealth's public schools. I encourage them to allow schools to reopen.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the lowest percentages of people in the population with COVID-19 are those under the age of 18, which is only 0.7%. For adults, between 18-49 years, which is the age range of most schools, teachers, and staff, the rate is 2.5%. For those between 50-64 years of age, it is 7.4%. Those hospitalized by COIVD-19 are primarily 75 years old and above. These national numbers are skewed upward by a large number of people in the New York City metropolitan area who have already tested COVID-19 positive.

Preliminary research also suggests that somewhere between 20-80% of these small percentages of people who get the coronavirus are mostly asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. Although this statistic is most often used to explain how easily and unknowingly the virus can spread, it is equally valid that these large percentages of people with COVID-19 do not feel ill even when they get the virus.

Statewide, the group most in danger is prominent. Of the 6,718 people who have died from the coronavirus, 4,180 deaths occurred in long-term care facilities. As for trends, the Massachusetts Department of Health reports since April 15 there has been a 73% decrease in the rate of positive COVID-19 cases, a 42% decrease in hospitalizations and a 63% decrease in COVID-related deaths, (all statistics as of May 29).

The need for in-class, in-person learning is more pronounced because remote learning has been an unfathomable disaster. The "work" assigned entailed busywork that could not be assisted with, appropriately monitored, reviewed, and graded. Effective instruction did not occur.

Do you know whose fault it was that remote learning was such a disaster? No one's. The need for remote learning was utterly unexpected, and urban schools and their students lacked the technical and home infrastructure the most. Very few teachers and school systems were ready to teach remotely. WPS had not previously invested sufficiently in technology, given its very real budget constraints. Chromebooks were not distributed until mid to late May, even though the schools closed March 12. WPS is admittedly still 6,000 Chromebooks short. Worcester's computer software is antiquated and not up to the job.

Although the greater familiarity with resources and methods of remote learning would improve for this fall, internet-based learning is still a hollow shell of what happens daily between a teacher and students in a classroom. (Remote learning only really worked for college students, and even then it was a poor substitute for campus learning and life). Ideally, school communities play a vital caretaker role in enhancing child welfare; alert to the mental, emotional, and physical traumas its students may suffer. However, WPS has never had enough funding to engage in this activity to anywhere near the extent needed.

To reopen, it is vital to conduct as much preventative care within schools as possible. Maximizing safety compliance includes well-functioning ventilation systems, opening windows, and inside doors with a hygiene protocol, which provides for constant use of hand sanitizer and disinfectant. Social distancing measures, whenever possible, should be instituted, including staggering cafeteria times or eating lunch in classrooms, distancing to the degree possible between students in hallways, on buses and in classes, wearing protective masks, and taking children's and staff's temperatures daily.

These measures are necessary not only for public health reasons such as protecting school staff, the children, parents, and grandparents at home, but also to alleviate as much fear as possible in the children's parents. Communications with parents should be organized at the schools this summer, into the fall, and throughout the year to inform them of safety and health measures instituted and evaluated. Transparency about the illness of children and staff, when it occurs, must be communicated to the parents immediately. Flexible leave policies for teachers and other staff are necessary.

Recent state proposals communicated to the City Council this week by WPS Superintendent Maureen Binienda indicated that the Commonwealth Department of Education is informing school systems that it would provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff but not to students. This is, to be polite, unacceptable. Given how many lower-income students there are in Worcester, the allotment of PPE should be the reverse. A large number of community members called into last Tuesday's City Council meeting reacting to the police response against post demonstration activity in the Main South Webster Square areas following the magnificently organized and attended peaceful human-civil rights, anti-racism, solidarity protest and march last week.

Many community residents demanded the $254,324 slated to the police department's budget for new cars and such, should instead be allocated for social concerns (like buying PPE and providing more temperature scans, nursing, and busing services for students). After reviewing the video of the evening's encounter with the police, City Manager Ed Augustus, a person whose judgment I trust, said the police acted with appropriate restraint. Serious questions about whether too many non-violent people who were simply on the streets and sidewalks were arrested that night for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace do remain, however.

Additional taxpayer funds for the school and social development should, however, be reallocated from the overpaid, overused, paid-detail work of the police on road, sewer and utility work, which allows private road contractors and utility companies to say they need more police on-site than they actually do, as any cursory drive around Worcester this spring, or during any road construction season, shows. Look at the list of highest-paid City of Worcester employees every year; it is filled overwhelmingly with police officers making between $100,000-200,000 a year due to paid details and overtime, which the taxpayer ultimately pays. A comparison with teachers shows they earn about half as much as police (though police admittedly work many more hours for this highly elevated pay).

Polling shows that many teachers say they are unlikely to go back to school if their classrooms reopen in the fall. Yet, the number of teachers who actually retire or resign is likely not to be so great, especially among teachers not previously contemplating retirement or moving on. WPS should announce that it will reopen immediately so that it has time to hire new teachers if needed. Polls also indicate some parents say they would likely pursue at-home learning options instead of sending their children back to school this fall.

Early decisions will also help parents who believe the pandemic is so threatening that homeschooling is more advantageous, allowing those families to apply to conduct homeschooling. WPS likely cannot afford to offer a dual system of remote, distance learning as an option to in-person learning. The logistical and organizational problems and expense are too many of an obstacle to run two parallel systems simultaneously by September. For children out with long term illness, however, remote-based learning could perhaps be selectively used in specific classrooms.

The bottom line is this: It is time to balance mitigation efforts with other compelling and competing values. The time to concentrate on educating and socializing our children and to return to normal family life, where parents work and earn money for their families and simultaneously contribute to our shared economic life, has now arrived.

—Randy Feldman has been an immigration lawyer in Worcester for the past 30 years.