Fairfax County School Shutdown Karen thought process

A friend sent me this post from Joe the Shutdown Karen of Fairfax County:

To our fellow FCPS families, this is it gang, 5 days until the 2 days in school vs. 100% virtual decision. Let’s talk it out, in my traditional mammoth TL/DR form.

Full disclosure, we initially chose the 2 days option and are now having serious reservations. As I consider the positions and arguments I see in my feed, these are where my mind goes. Of note, when I started working on this piece at 12:19 PM today the COVID death tally in the United States stood at 133,420.

“My kids want to go back to school.”

I challenge that position. I believe what the kids desire is more abstract. I believe what they want is a return to normalcy. They want their idea of yesterday. And yesterday isn’t on the menu.

“I want my child in school so they can socialize.”

This was the principle reason for our 2 days decision. As I think more on it though, what do we think ‘social’ will look like? There aren’t going to be any lunch table groups, any lockers, any recess games, any study halls, any sitting next to friends, any talking to people in the hallway, any dances. All of that is off the menu. So, when we say that we want the kids to benefit from the social experience, what are we deluding ourselves into thinking in-building socialization will actually look like in the Fall?

“My kid is going to be left behind.”

Left behind who? The entire country is grappling with the same issue, leaving all children in the same quagmire. Who exactly would they be behind? I believe the rhetorical answer to that is “They’ll be behind where they should be,” to which I’ll counter that “where they should be” is a fictional goal post that we as a society have taken as gospel because it maps to standardized tests which are used to grade schools and counties as they chase funding.

In other words, the public school Shutdown Karens imagine that rich kids in private school won’t be working and learning! (see https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2020/05/20/massachusetts-private-school-students-zoom-ahead/ for the educational gulf that has opened up in Maskachusetts between public and private school children; see nytimes for how low-income students of color are the Shutdown Karens’ biggest victims).

How do people in the third richest country in the United States deal with numbers?

FCPS has 189,000 children. .0016 of that is 302. 302 dead children are the Calvary Hill you’re erecting your argument on. So, let’s agree to do this: stop presenting this as a data point. If this is your argument, I challenge you to have courage equal to your conviction. Go ahead, plant a flag on the internet and say, “Only 302 children will die.” No one will. That’s the kind action on social media that gets you fired from your job. And I trust our social media enclave isn’t so careless and irresponsible with life that it would even, for even a millisecond, enter any of your minds to make such an argument.

Out of more than 8,000 people (average age 82 and 98 percent with “underlying conditions”) killed in thoroughly-plagued Massachusetts (population 7 million), exactly 0 have been under the age of 20 (dashboard). Yet the 1.1 million rich government workers, contractors, and lobbyists of Fairfax County are going to experience 302 extra deaths among children (equivalent to over 2,000 for an MA-sized population). (Of course, if they still believe the March dogma of Flatten the Curve, a 10-year school shutdown won’t have any effect on the infection/death rate among children; the same number of infections and deaths will simply be spread out.)

I’m kind of amazed at the lack of imagination and lack of expectations among the subjects of American government. Our theory used to be that the U.S. had liberty while the Chinese had competence. They had the Shanghai Metro while we had complete freedom of speech, assembly, religion, etc. Our liberties are mostly gone, subject to the potentially arbitrary decisions of state governors (the perfect example of a “a government of men rather than a government of laws”) and of the mob (getting people fired from jobs if they don’t worship at the churches of BLM, #MeToo, and the Rainbow Flag). The Fourteenth Amendment is gone, with students being entitled to an education depending on their skin color. But nobody insists on receiving competent government in return. For example, if the Karens of Fairfax want their brats to be spaced farther apart in the schools, why can’t the schools rent more space? With retail going bankrupt and office buildings shut down, would it actually be hard for every school to double its physical size? The Chinese built a hospital for 5,000 people in 10 days. A U.S. school system can’t rent a bankrupt Sears store’s old space given six months to negotiate? And then drive to IKEA for some desks? Keep in mind that Fairfax is insanely rich by U.S. standards (thank you for paying your federal taxes!).


30 thoughts on “Fairfax County School Shutdown Karen thought process

  1. When I was young I thought school was a prison. Prison looks free compared to what kids are looking at in September.
    Funny thing is homeschool kids are going to have more socialization opportunities than the public school kids and lack of socialization used to be the main argument against homeschooling.

  2. We Americans like to think we are the heirs to the pilgrims, the pioneers, the colonial soldiers who gave their lives for freedom and the immigrants who braved the seas in search of freedom and opportunity. Turns out we are way more timid than the Swedes & so long as we are permitted to cower in our homes albeit alive who cares about anything else?

  3. Of course, there are other concerns: spread within the school to staff, kids taking the virus home. Examples:


    Too, our next door neighbor was orphaned during the 1918 pandemic.

    We all love it when our favorite blogger, flight instructor, and rational voice reduces complex issues to Karen-ism 😉 however the return to school is a bit more complicated an issue than it seems. IMHO.

    Phil, I have wanted to ask – is part of your ongoing invective about COVID policy somehow related to reduced flight instruction duties? I’ve hung up my ticket for quite a few years now, but still remember very well the shoulder to shoulder days of primary flight instruction in 172s..
    If you’re still giving instruction, how the heck do you distance in an R44 anyways? If I was still active in flying, surely I’d be missing it by now!

    Fair disclosure – I count myself among the “open” crowd, but wish that people received clear, consistent guidance, and actually behaved as guidelines suggest.

    • Rick: Flight instruction is booming since the License Raj allowed flight schools to reopen on June 8. Bar Harbor has a flight school where a friend’s son is trying to get his Private. They are jammed. Aircraft rental is down a bit since there is nowhere to go and nobody knows what is open. How do you avoid coronaplague in an R44? Easy! Take the front doors off. Even the demon virus is no match for a 100 mph breeze.

      (Why are so many people wanting to take lessons? What else can they spend money on?)

      The article you cite from Arizona about the teachers is a good argument for reopening schools. The teachers apparently got coronavirus from each other (i.e., adult to adult transmission). It should be easy enough to set up schools so that classes are small and adults interact only with children. I’m not sure why you cited the Iraq article. Children don’t seem to be involved except as people who will miss parents who died.

  4. Philip seems fixated only on mortality, not morbidity.

    But it seems that “recovered” from COVID-19 is a lot more like “recovering” from a stroke: you are never the same again. COVID-19 seems to infect not just the lungs, but also the endothelium, and thus damage most of the important organs (including the brain).

    • Sweden has had a fair number of infections (though less than half as many deaths as here in Maskachusetts!). Here’s a Swedish physician and research doc… at the end of the video she says that she actually wishes she’d had a mild infection so that she could then safely visit the elderly. https://youtu.be/CwQpg62Kflg

  5. I imagine that doctor will soon be waking that back as they are now discovering people who had “mild” symptoms are still developing severe brain disorders even “after recovery”.

    A number of scientists seem to coming to the conclusion this is not respiratory disease but more a vascular disease that is passed through the respiratory system. Which means it can damage not just your lungs, but every part of your body.

    Also I don’t think Karen means what you think it does.

    • Yes, it does seem to be an infection of the endothelium.

      That doctor also _assumed_ (without evidence) that immunity was long-lasting (like chicken pox). Research published the day after that YouTube video shows otherwise:
      People who have recovered from Covid-19 may lose their immunity to the disease within months,…

      levels of antibodies that can destroy the virus peaked about three weeks after the onset of symptoms then swiftly declined.

      Blood tests revealed that while 60% of people marshalled a “potent” antibody response at the height of their battle with the virus, only 17% retained the same potency three months later. Antibody levels fell as much as 23-fold over the period. In some cases, they became undetectable.

  6. > This was the principle reason for our 2 days decision.

    This is the second time in less than a week that someone has fucked up principle/principal, and you haven’t noticed either time.

  7. His argument still stands but I do believe he has misstated and therefore miscalculated the numbers. To calculate the death rate of children, you don’t simply calculate .0016 of the total on fcps (189,000). You first need to determine how many out of 189,000 are going to be positive cases of COVID-19. Estimates suggest that number is anywhere between 5% and 25% of the general population. 5% of 189,000 is 9450 and 25% of 189,000 is 47,250. I believe that the correct calculation of the death rate is to take .0016 of THOSE numbers which gives us a range 17 on the low end to 76 on the high end. Like I said, it doesn’t change his argument. It’s still too many deaths. And I am no statistician or mathematician, I am a preschool director, but this misrepresentation (albeit unintentional) of the numbers bothers me and it surprises me that I seem to be the only one to notice it. Let’s be critical consumers of information folks, because sometimes we can get sucked into believing something that may be harmful to us or others because we took something we read on the internet at face value. (Again, not so in this case, where his argument stands whether the number is 17 or 76 or 320). But I do believe that in general, accuracy matters when you want to make a sound argument.

    • I would think, if the child who dies is yours, that would be one too many children. Instead of just numbers, see a dead 6 year old, his or her brother/sister crying, the parents, the grandparents. Think about it!

    • Of course nobody *wants* children to die, and of course the relatives would be devastated. And yet we routinely, as individuals and as a society, decide that many things are more important than the absolute minimisation of mortality and morbidity.

      If zero is the only acceptable number of dead children, then can I assume that you’re also in favour of the total banning of automobiles, airplanes, swimming pools, kitchen knives, household cleaners, grapes, bicycles, baseball bats, hot dogs, boats, plastic bags, ladders, matches, and the thousands of other objects that routinely result in the accidental deaths of children?

      If not, then why would zero be a rational public policy goal for COVID deaths (but nothing else), particularly when it comes at the high cost of something so fundamental as childhood education?

      Are we willing to so casually degrade the education of 80 million American children, with all of the negative follow-on effects that this will have on those children for their entire lives? (apparently yes!)

      Required reading: https://mises.org/library/which-seen-and-which-not-seen

    • Dear Anonymous,
      You are correct, but there is one additional math error that you missed and also a more specific infection rate. The website American Society of Pediatrics says that data shows infection rate for children is no more than 2%, giving probable number of infected no more than 3200. The very bad math error that you would not have been able to detect, is that the death rate of infected children is .0016 PER CENT!! This number is found on the website of the American Council on Science and Health where a Swedish study is cited. This can be expressed as .000016, not .0016. Apply .000016 to expected sick of 3200 and the result is 0.5 expected deaths, using the highest estimates published. That means that it is unlikely that any children would be killed by Covid in Phil’s school system of 189,000 students. I critically analyzed my conclusion by reviewing many news sources and other online information that confirms that the death rate for children is very very low. Thank you for being the only other educator who questioned the outrageous number of 302. Our common sense should alert us that this high number of deaths is not consistent with any reports on the effect of COVID 19 on children. I heartily agree with your concern that so many educators and parents accepted the alarming number 302 uncritically. I am also concerned that Phil read the value .0016% and thought he could just drop the percent sign and use the number .0016. I look forward to a mathematically valid response from Phil, or any other interested reader.

    • Grammie K: Thanks for your contribution. Note that Fairfax County, Virginia is not our local school system (we are in Maskachusetts). Also, the arithmetic errors that you cite are not mine (a rare situation indeed!). Except for the final adjustment of his 302 dead children prediction to the Massachusetts population, all of the arithmetic in the original post is simply cut and pasted from a guy named Joe on Facebook (presumably he does actually live in Fairfax County, Virginia, unlike me). That an American Shutdown Karen such as Joe can’t do arithmetic isn’t so interesting to me. What is interesting is that he was expecting 302 dead children after schools reopened even though he presumably hadn’t heard of any children being killed by Covid-19 in his county so far. He never questioned his result.

  8. Time to create a measurable rubric with actual, MEASURABLE, endpoints instead of merely repeating GOP narrative and rhetoric.

    If you are wrong, Phil, about Sweden, etc. what will it take for you to admit it?

    • Professor Karen: You have raised a great question! What would have to happen in Sweden for me to say “Those MD/PhDs running the show over there were pinheads”? I think it deserves a separate blog post.

      But very loosely, I would look at the Covid-19 death rate for the EU overall and for the US. Then try to look at the deaths that would have been caused if Sweden had done a U.S.-style shutdown (see https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/499394-the-covid-19-shutdown-will-cost-americans-millions-of-years-of-life for how the shutdown will probably deprive Americans of more life-years than the plague virus itself). Then try to estimate people killed in poor countries by shutdowns in rich countries (because I agree with Bill Gates that “all lives have equal value”).

      I think we have to mark the value of personal liberty, sending children to school, economic harm that doesn’t cause death, etc. at zero. Americans are happy to live on their knees if they think they can avoid dying on their feet. And plainly Americans don’t care about educating their children anymore. So the calculation of whether Sweden did the right thing or wrong thing should be made purely in life-years lost or gained.

  9. Phil, that’s great news that the license raj released their choke hold on the local flight instruction scene. I had this bad visual of our favorite flight instructor sitting in the basement dungeon of his Covid castle, playing whack-a-mole with FB postings (karen – no karen – no karen – karen -karen -karen). Versus the reality of a squadron of R44’s flying out of the morning sunlight into KBED, Wager playing: Coronapocalypse style, PhilG hopping out of an R44, Kilgoresque, giving a quick interview to a waiting WFXT reporter (‘..no face make smells like, … like.., victory’) before power walking away for a post-flight review and logbook endorsement session in the classroom.

    R44 doors off sounds like too much fun. Curious, tho, how are the (boring) fixed wings folks getting this done? 172’s love to pop their doors – I’m convinced this is a flight instructor 101 technique to teach the importance of proper trim to keep the aircraft stable while wrestling the door closed. So maybe 172 doors off (isn’t just one door allowed to be off?) is a solution, but I’d bet flying a Diamond with the bubble off can’t be fun without googles & a leather helmet, if allowed at all!

    About the articles, they were examples of the meta pattern of arguments about school opening: child-staff, staff-staff, child-child, staff-child & parental variations that I see in the news. The ISIS link went a step further with a couple that escaped ISIS, only to be taken down by COVID. It isn’t too hard to find additional headlines in the kid-staff transmission bucket:

    (Of course, perhaps to your point – is there an implicit assumption that the source of
    infection was work related?)

    I don’t know what the answer is, but being a product of the 70’s high school era, I well remember the bell sounding, kids hustling off to the bathrooms to exchange puffs on Marlboros before the local gendarmes busted them. So what happens now, kool kids exchanging Corona coughs between the stalls, before the gendarmes in hazmat suits and respirators bust them? So if they’re successfully in getting infected, is the reward-feedback loop to slam the doors shut on school again?

    We won’t really know what happens until the experiment is run, taking a bit of a riff off Devos’ recent comments in the Coronapress. I do admit just consuming the summary of her supposed commentary, and didn’t do look at the original, unedited interviews. So maybe she was misquoted, but my cynical side suspects not.

    • How do the C172 instructors make it work? They can keep the doors open until just before takeoff, right? And then there should be a lot of airflow from the vents. I think that it is also possible to wear masks and still talk into the boom microphone (since we believe that 155 masked people can safely share the confines of an Airbus or Boeing, why not two masked people in a C172?).

    • The local flight school (I better not say where — lest they be convicted of heresy!) is also rammed. Every plane busy on every day that weather permits. I’m thrilled, because I was seriously afraid that a two-month compulsory shutdown (even aircraft maintenance was not considered essential!) would destroy the business.

      I’m in there every day, and I do occasionally see someone wearing a mask — normally when an older-aged DPE is in the building.

      Overall, I’d estimate that 90+% of students and CFIs — in 150s and 172s, with doors on — almost all between the ages of 20 and 40, are going unmasked, day in and day out. None of the A&Ps or front-desk staff wear masks. There are no social-distancing dots on the floor. They haven’t blocked every second seat on the sofas or in the classroom. Nobody is interested in the trappings of pandemic theatre.

      This has been going on since it reopened in early May. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no cases associated with anyone at the school. This proves nothing, of course; just another anecdote.

  10. In January of this year, Fairfax County announced that they would no longer prosecute low-level marijuana offenses:


    “In an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Friday, Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney Steve Descano acknowledged, “I’ve directed my office to no longer prosecute adults for simple possession of marijuana.” Descano said that filing low-level criminal prosecutions “drains county resources,” “does not improve community safety,” and “disproportionately affects people of color.”

    They should go much farther and legalize it, as Massachusetts has done, and then locate the new recreational marijuana dispensaries on the grounds of public schools throughout Fairfax county.

    This past weekend I made a delivery to a business located about a block away from one of MA’s recreational dispensaries, and I can tell you this: There is nothing on this Earth that will deter people from traveling there, waiting in a line that stretches around the building, with some people wearing masks and some unmasked, for hours on end, to buy their dope. It may be the only business in this state that is 100% COVID-proof. They must be doing $5,000 an hour in sales or more. It’s a ceaseless stream of customers going in/out of the building every 2 minutes or so, everyone with their bag of dope on their way out. The cars are everything from brand-new BMW SUVs, and Mercedes, etc., many with out-of-state plates (people drove from CT and NY in large numbers!) to bombed-out 1991 slammed Honda Civics with sun-faded paint and coffee can exhausts booming hip-hop. It’s a true multicultural/multiracial gathering place for all socioeconomic backgrounds.

    If they want the kids to go back to school, all they need to do is put the marijuana dispensaries in the parking lots of the schools. In very short order, people will rationalize any minor risk that exists to their kids, as long as the adults can buy their weed. Since the taxes from the sales go to fund the schools, it’s a huge win-win for everyone.

    Drop your kids off in the morning, stock up your stash, go to work at home and get high, and then by the time the afternoon munchies roll around, they’re ready to come home. And the kids will learn the greatest lesson of all: they’ll understand what the future of American commerce is really all about.

    • WTF i cant see where one thing has to do with another, wwhy put the dispensaries across the school parking lot?

    • I believe your data is generally consistent with my post of July 25. Unfortunately, very few readers questioned the outrageous number of 302 deaths.

  11. @Rick, for every tragic COVID-19 story the media reports there is at least another counter story that the media fails to report on. How about reporting on families who lost jobs and income? Kids losing on education and the long term effect? College students missing out but yet still have to pay what they owe? Small businesses closing down and many may never be able to open again? Large business laying off workers who now have to rebuild their career? Families separating due to lock down stress? Health issues increasing due to lock-down? So on and so fort.

    If the goal is to save lives at *all* cost, then that’s no different to compared day traders who *gamble* on the market for shot term gain. Only few win in the short term at the cost of all others.

    Like I said multiple times on this blog, this whole thing could have been managed far better if the media run education programs on how to “stay safe”, rather then running sensational stories on how the number of cases is going up and how not locking up is causing infection to spread. The media is making it sound like if you are infected, you will die, your family will die and you will cause all those around you to die, there is no way out.

    Infection != Death

    Look at old news feeds and reporting of WWII. We have young men dying in battles, while far, far more getting permanently handicapped, but yet what do we see on the news feeds even when we were losing some battles? How heroic our men (sorry there were no women) are and how the country is behind our troupes.

    Look at the cold war era news feeds. You see the same triumphant reporting and even education reporting on how to “duck under the desk” (as if that made sense) in the event of a nuclear explosion.

    The media used to broadcast in a positive light and provide educational news even when things were bad or the advice didn’t make sense. Sadly this is not the case today. Just look at how reporters try to out do each other on who can better mock another reporter or politician. Not just that, reports are one sided. This is so wrong. It is one thing for politician to mock the opposite party, but when the media does it, you move this up to a whole new level and dangerous place.

    News reporting != Sensationalism reporting

  12. Were the schools to fully reopen, who would teach the children? Many teachers will not risk their lives or put their families at risk. They will retire or quit if pushed into returning to in-person classes. The school district could hire hundreds of new teachers to replace those who refuse to return to class, but there isn’t a teacher surplus in Virginia. Those new teachers are coming from other school districts who are facing the same issues. Fairfax County could open at the expense of several smaller districts. However, the superintendent says physical space restricts the number of students who can be in the schools at one time. I think some classes could be held outdoors during good weather and maybe some large event tents could work even in bad weather. Classes could be rotated seven days a week instead of five. But that is just me thinking aloud, not anything being considered. Your idea is completely out of the realm of possibility, though. The Sears store that closed was quickly renovated and filled with other tenants. The thing about living in the third wealthiest county in the country is that retail space doesn’t stay empty. There are no vacant buildings. Fairfax County couldn’t hire enough schoolbus drivers last year when life was normal. Who would drive the buses now?

    • Wendy: In every family in shut-down Fairfax County with a child, at least one parent has stayed home since March to teach that child, right? Doesn’t that show that Fairfax County actually has a huge surplus of qualified teachers?

      I like your idea of rotating through 7 days!

      Good point on the buses, but (a) we have enough immigrants that, at least in 2019, nearly everyone in the D.C. could afford to travel by chauffeured car (i.e., Uber), and (b) it is a lot less work for parents to drive a child to school than to stay home with a child for 6 hours per day.

      But why would teachers quit? I can understand why they’d want to stay home and collect a paycheck (the recent system). But if they need a paycheck for any reason, what other job would be safer than teaching 7-year-olds whom the Europeans say are extremely unlikely to be infected? Are the teachers who quit going to go to work at Whole Foods and interact with 300 customers every day? Why is that safer?

    • @Wendy, the rotating idea is a very good one. Many other countries in the developing world do it and I experienced it first hand growing up in Syria back in 1970’s. We had 6 days of schooling, 3 of which were in the morning (7:30 till 12:30) and 3 days in the afternoon (1:30 till 6:30) (this system is still in used today). This way they managed to get more students in a school then having to build more schools. For our American schools, doing a rotation would work well, it would let 1/2 the amount of students in a class room then we do now — but will teachers agree to give a class twice a week? I.e.: work twice as hard? This can be their call to quit or even better strike and get paid. But hey, we know they won’t strike because they care about our kids and their future and are willing to go the extra mile, right, right?!!

  13. Dear Phil,
    I saw a facebook post that was cut and pasted and was signed by a Philip Keirstad. I think he was the original author, and Facebook Joe was commenting on Phil’s post. I then confused you, Phil, with the original Phil. Sorry! It seems that Phil K’s post is very very popular. And, sadly, it’s being accepted without question.
    Thank you for addressing this.

    • Aha! Thanks for the explanation. Although I go by “Philip”, a lot of people call me “Phil” due to my 1976 high-style “philg” username! (from a system with a 36-bit word and 6-bit character set, so your username could be at most six chars)

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