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The Case for Reopening Schools

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“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr.



I usually use this space to talk about financial markets, investment management and wealth planning. This of course makes sense, as the purpose of my monthly newsletter is to inform and connect with both clients and interested friends on this particular topic. But there is only so much one can say about financial markets and wealth planning, which is why I have decided to highlight the topic of school closures as they relate to the COVID-19 virus.

All families have their own unique situation, and what is the best option for my family may not be the best option for others in the community. With that said, I sent out a letter to the superintendent of our school district last month, which was unambiguously in favor of opening-up our daughter’s elementary school to full-time classroom learning this coming Fall.

As time has passed and more information on the virus is known, we believe in our household, that the risks to our daughter not attending school full-time, far outweigh the other options proposed. For us, the emotional and social impact distance learning has had on our daughter was made clearly apparent during the March-June period of this year, therefore keeping schools closed while awaiting a vaccine is not an acceptable alternative.

Of course, school closures not only impact parents with school aged children, but also broadly affect our economy, employment, earnings and ultimately our tax base. Not to mention the fact that school closures disproportionally penalize single parent households.

I understand some of my readers may feel differently on this subject and that is fine. There are many unknowns and we all have a right to be scared, unsure and concerned. These are difficult times and I don’t know if I am right (no one does), this is just what I believe and feel.

I have attached a link to a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece, “The Case for Reopening Schools,” (here), which makes a strong case for getting students back into the classroom this Fall. Since a subscription is required, feel free to reach out and I’ll email copies to clients and friends who are unable to access.

Continuing on with the subject above, I found the commentary below from John Hasnas, who is an ethics professor at Georgetown University inspiring. He has decided to teach classes on campus despite the risks. Here is what he has to say.

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Why I’ll Be on Campus This Fall

I’m high-risk for Covid-19, but I'm obligated to give my Georgetown students the education they pay for

By John Hasnas

The Wall Street Journal

July 13, 2020

Georgetown University has given all its faculty, including me, the option to teach in the classroom or remotely via computer during the fall semester. Even though my age places me in the high-risk category, I’ve elected to teach in person. I feel I have an obligation to do so.

Covid-19 is a fact of life. There is no alternative to learning to live with the risk of infection as generations before us lived with similar dangers. My father used to describe what it was like living with the risk of disease when he was a boy before antibiotics. My older relatives told me what it was like living with the risk of polio before the Salk vaccine. Covid-19 is part of our environment. The only options we have are to take reasonable precautions and get on with life or to hide from it.

For the past four months, I have watched people younger than myself risk infection for my benefit. People who are often the age of my students have kept grocery stores open for me, cooked and delivered food to my home, worked in warehouses, loaded and driven trucks to deliver packages to me, worked in meat-processing plants and other links in the supply chain to ensure that I have what I need for a comfortable life, and worked in hospitals so that I can get treatment if I get sick. I would feel ungenerous if I were unwilling to run some risk of infection myself to provide my services to them.

Teaching university and law students doesn’t qualify as an essential service, as that term is currently defined. But I wouldn’t be a professor if I did not believe that there was significant value in higher education. Given what the younger generations have done for me, I believe that I have a responsibility to give them the best learning experience I can, and that means being in the classroom with them.

I don’t believe the risk of teaching in person is an unreasonable one. In my opinion, Georgetown University is exercising an unreasonable amount of care to protect its students, faculty and staff against the virus. As a torts professor, I teach my students that we all have a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect others against harm from our actions. Reasonable care consists of taking precautions to avoid harm whenever “there is some real likelihood of damage” that would be apparent to “a reasonably prudent mind.” An unreasonable level of care would be to expend resources on additional precautions that do little or nothing to further increase safety.

My observations of Georgetown’s preparations for the fall semester indicate that the university is taking not only all reasonable precautions, but also several unreasonable ones that will cause inconvenience without significantly improving safety—for instance, requiring professors to wear masks while teaching, even if they’re on a podium far from any student.

And it is important to be on campus. I have taught at Georgetown for many years, and hope to continue teaching there for many more. For me, missing one year in the classroom is not much of a sacrifice. But my undergraduate students have only four years in college and my law students only three in law school. I have clear memories of how personally meaningful and fleeting those years are, of how much emotional growth and character development takes place though interactions with classmates and faculty.

My current students have already lost several months of this precious time. It looks as if they are destined to lose more. I feel obliged to minimize that loss as much as I can by providing them with as close to a normal educational experience as possible under the circumstances. The least I can do is be in the room with them.

I understand why my colleagues, especially those in high-risk categories, would choose to teach remotely. My comments reflect only my own evaluation of risks and rewards and are not intended as criticism of those who’ve made a contrary decision. But when classes start up again in August, I will be at the podium, ready to look my students in the eye, which is all that will be visible above their masks, and get back to work.

Mr. Hasnas, an ethics professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, also teaches at Georgetown Law Center.

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On financial markets I am still mostly constructive. The trends toward greater technology adoption have obviously been accelerated as a result of The Virus. I’ll add to this lower future interest rates and credit spread compression should also continue along by my estimate as well. Gold and gold miners will probably continue to rally due to the large amount of both monetary and fiscal stimulus throughout the system. This is not just a U.S. or Dollar moment but a global one. Maybe the economy takes longer to bounce back than hoped, but ultimately it will, and equities as many of us know are the longest duration assets out there. What’s a few quarters of negative growth when in theory a successful company’s cashflows could be infinite?


Sincerely,

Justin Kobe, CFA

Founder, Portfolio Manager & Adviser

Pacificus Capital Management









Advisory services through Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser. Securities offered through Registered Representatives of Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a broker-dealer, member FINRA/SIPC. Cambridge and Pacificus Capital Management are not affiliated. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only, and it is not to be construed as investment, tax, or legal advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice. These are the opinions of Justin Kobe and not necessarily those of Cambridge Investment Research, are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed or acted upon as individualized investment advice. Investing in the bond market is subject to risks, including market, interest rate, issuer credit, inflation risk, and liquidity risk. The value of most bonds and bond strategies is impacted by changes in interest rates. Bonds and bond strategies with longer durations tend to be more sensitive and volatile than those with shorter durations; bond prices generally fall as interest rates rise, and the current low interest rate environment increases this risk. Current reductions in bond counter-party capacity may contribute to decreased market liquidity and increased price volatility. Bond investments may be worth more or less than the original cost when redeemed. Diversification and asset allocation strategies do not assure profit or protect against loss.

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