This piece, co-authored by Erik Burmeister, Beth Polito, and Gina Sudaria, originally appeared as a Guest Opinion in The Almanac newspaper under the title "Halloween during a pandemic doesn't have to be scary." The Almanac serves the communities of Menlo Park, Atherton, Portola Valley, and Woodside. Dr. Polito is Superintendent of Las Lomitas Elementary School District. Ms. Sudaria is Superintendent of Ravenswood City School District.
With the realities of COVID-19 firmly ingrained, how to celebrate the upcoming holidays is top of mind. We face the real possibility of missing some very dear and important traditions. As Superintendents of your local elementary school districts, many parents ask us about holiday expectations. Will they be the same? Is trick-or-treating safe? Can we have class parties? Is travel okay? These are all legitimate questions that must be answered within the context of an unfortunate reality.
We remain in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed 210,000 Americans and over one million individuals worldwide. There is no vaccine available. Social gatherings remain the single biggest contributor to the spread of COVID-19. If we wish to open schools and keep them open, we must adjust our expectations and use the pandemic as an opportunity to find new ways to celebrate.
According to the CDC, many of the traditions we love most are considered unsafe; these include trick or treating, haunted houses, and indoor parties. Your local Superintendents ask our community to please plan alternatives to traditional trick-or-treating this year. Consider socially distanced outdoor costume parades just on your local block/street. Provide grab-and-go treats for kids along the path that don’t result in grouping at doorways. Postpone Haunted Houses until next year and don’t invite other families to your home for parties. Consider decorating your own home and plan a fun spooky movie watch-party just for those with whom you live.
Whether it is a Thanksgiving celebration or December holiday tradition, COVID-19 forces us to rethink our plans. We first want to address travel. The CDC is clear that “travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.” Your local Superintendents humbly ask parents to avoid travel this holiday season, particularly international travel. We also ask you to reconsider large gatherings that bring family together. COVID-19 doesn’t care that you are related. Familial relations don’t protect you from giving COVID to or getting COVID from your loved ones. The safest option for all of us is to celebrate with those with whom we live.
In our own experience, the holidays often involve hurried travel, a hectic sense of obligation, last minute shopping, and endless cooking for visitors. Why not use COVID-19 as an excuse to slow down this holiday season and focus on time spent with those in your home? After the stress of the last six months, doesn’t a quieter holiday season off of planes, out of stores, and away from Zoom sound life-giving right about now?
If you must celebrate outside of your home, we ask you to consider the following precautions. Limit the number of people with whom you are celebrating. Celebrate outdoors whenever possible. Wear a mask when not eating or drinking. When without a mask, keep your distance. Wash your hands regularly.
The three of us agree that the single most important social gathering that our entire community must prioritize is: kids in school. Every member of our community, whether they have children in school or not, has a part in ensuring our schools can open and stay open. If we can limit the spread of COVID in our community by limiting social gathering to only those activities that are essential--like school--we can get through this. The good news is that we will see a day when COVID is behind us. Until then, we thank everyone for adjusting their plans to ensure our schools can open and stay open. More importantly, our KIDS thank you.
Erik Burmeister is the Superintendent of Menlo Park City School District in the heart of Silicon Valley.