by Paul Moomjean

From 1999 to 2016, I was a teacher and wrestling coach. I taught and/or coached wrestling at six different schools in Simi Valley, Moorpark and Woodland Hills. I was a very successful wrestling coach with 10 league titles and three section titles, and I was the All-Star Tri-County Wrestling Association Head Coach. As a teacher, my AP English students placed in the highest percentage within the writing portion of the exam, and as a freshman comp teacher, my students’ standardized test scores were in the top 10 percent of the nation. I say this not to brag but to give context to my next statement: California Governor Gavin Newsom’s plan to maintain distance learning in the school system is the right choice, no matter how much we want things “back to normal.” With his county watchlist program, he will be able to help children, teachers and the community stay safe, despite President Donald Trump’s request to forgo safety and create a school system that would only enhance COVID-19’s spread and put the elderly in danger. 

Only July 17, Newsom announced that he was putting 31 out of 58 counties on the current watchlist on guard, letting them know they cannot reopen until he and other government organizations deem them safe to reopen. While the Trump administration’s team has been pushing the schools to open, Newsom’s plan maintains boundaries and equal fairness with other organizations. Ed Source summed up his plan this way: “In order for schools to reopen, the counties where [high cases] are located would have to have 14 days of a declining number of Covid-19 cases, as well as meet other criteria that the California Department of Public Health are currently using to regulate businesses and other activities, including shopping malls, bars and nail salons.”

While schools are not malls and bars, the virus doesn’t know that. Mass gatherings are the one X factor in an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Many argue that since there have been no official COVID-19 death cases in children under 18, why the extreme measures? Simple. Many children live with older adults. Imagine a child coming home with the virus and giving it to grandma. I don’t want to ruin the rest of your day, but you get the point. The virus spreads. Over four million people in the United State and over 16 million worldwide have contracted it. Nearly 650,000 people have died from it worldwide, with 150,000 of those deaths in America alone. Now is not the time to see if we can increase these numbers.

Meanwhile, CIF (California Interscholastic Federation), the governing body for high school sports in California, has announced that no games will be played until at least January 2021. Assuming every county can get off Newsom’s watchlist by then, and that’s a big “if,” athletic directors and coaches are taking three seasons of sports and cramming them into two. From January through June (after most graduations), athletes’ and coaches’ lives will be turned upside down. Already, the blue-chip athletes are going on Twitter to announce they plan to skip the CIF season and focus on college in the fall. On top of that, allowing parents to pack the stadiums and basketball gyms in the winter and spring feels like a foolish plan. Then there is the actual allowance of students working out together, breathing and sweating on top of each other, and all the other high-risk conditions that go into a sports season. What if a kid breaks his leg in a meet? In the past, an ambulance would send them to the local hospital. Now every local hospital has the deathly virus hovering through its halls.

While I appreciate the desire of many to go back to normal, maybe we should set ourselves up for success instead of failure. Maybe we take a year off traditional education. Maybe we tear down the idols of sports for a second. Maybe we think less about getting the country back on track and start asking what kind of track we can even build now. 

I recently watched *Jurassic Park* again. In that film, despite all the warning signs and casualties, the characters kept trying to make the dinosaur park work. That seems like us and COVID-19. At one point the character John Hammond yells out, “People are dying!” In all of our best laid plans to be “normal” again, we seem to have forgotten that.