Assuming it can be accomplished safely, should we reopen our schools in the Fall? That is one of the critical questions facing us at the moment. Below please find my thoughts and opinions on the matter. Although I am neither a physician nor an educator, I have been following this issue closely, and I have strong opinions on the issue. Much of the following is based on those opinions and observations, but I have supplemented it with the results of studies and analyses published by authoritative sources such as the CDC and various educational sources and media outlets.
According to the CDC and many other medical professionals the available scientific evidence indicates that if children get the CV they are highly unlikely to contract a severe case. Most of the time they get a mild case, recover quickly and rarely infect others. Many of them do not even realize they were sick.
Those under the age of 18 account for about 7% of the CV cases and less than .1% of the fatalities. .1%!!
Multiple studies have demonstrated that the rate of transmission among children and from children to family members or other adults is extremely low. Is it medically safe? Nobody wants to do anything to endanger the health of the kids, the teachers or anyone else. Let’s get that out of the way. So, the question becomes, is there a way to reopen the schools and eliminate the danger entirely? The answer is “of course, not.” Nothing we do in life is 100% safe. Every time you cross the street there is a possibility of being hit by a car. Every time you take a bath there is the risk you will slip, crack your head, and suffer a brain injury. Yet, we still cross the street and take baths. Similarly, I will stipulate that there is a very slight risk that a child or a teacher will get infected with the CV. I also maintain that the risk is so very, very small that it is far outweighed by the benefits, and it should not frighten us into keeping schools closed. Keeping schools closed carries significant risks as delineated below:
- Health-related dangers of keeping kids home. No one wants anyone to die, especially children, but as you will see, the health risk of not attending school is far greater than the chance of their contracting the CV. For example, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends that children return to school. For many disadvantaged children the daily school-provided meals constitute the most nutritious food they receive. Missing those meals would have a deleterious effect on their health. I will include other mental and emotional health issues below under “social issues.”
- Virtual learning is not as effective as in-person learning. According to the CDC “in-person schooling is in the best interests of the students,” particularly when appropriate mitigation measures” have been taken. We are all familiar with these measures, which include, among others, wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing.
- Returning to school is necessary to counteract the “summer slide.” Many educators and parents are familiar with this phenomenon, although perhaps, not with the actual term. According to the Northwest Evaluation Association, a research-oriented not-for-profit entity that specializes in academic assessments regarding K-12 students, over the summer students may lose up to 39% of their improvement in reading from the previous school year and up to 50% in math. These percentages will, of course, vary depending on the student’s grade and other factors, but the salient point is very clear. Students cannot afford to have their education interrupted, lest they fall behind, perhaps, significantly and irrevocably.
- Keeping schools closed has a disproportionally adverse economic effect on working class and poor people. First of all, in many cases the parents, especially a single parent, would be unable to work as they cannot afford daycare, nor do they have the type of job that would enable them to work from home. Consequently, they may lose their job. Secondly, many poor families do not have access to a computer, or if they do there are not enough for each child in the family to use. Thirdly, they are more reliant on schools services as I will discuss below.
- Social issues. There have been several studies regarding adverse effects in this area. Some of these would include “hindering the development” of “social skills and peer relationships,” child abuse, substance abuse, and the inability to focus on and ameliorate student disabilities. This is especially true regarding poor families that rely exclusively on schools to provide assistance. According to a 2018 study conducted by the Home Health Services Association, teachers and and other educational personnel are the number one reporters of child abuse. Without being in the classroom many of these instances would likely go unreported and unresolved. Furthermore, various studies have shown that some 20% of children between the ages of nine and 17 suffer from some type of “mental health condition.” Studies of pandemics have found a “strong association” between the length of time being quarantined and the onset of PTSD. also, physicians, social workers and teachers generally agree that schools provide a safe environment for learning, and we all know that education is the primary path to success in life.
Everyone agrees that keeping our children safe is of paramount importance. Contrary to what some cable news outlets have been proclaiming, no one wants to endanger their lives. As I said above, we all know that nothing is 100% certain; everything we do in life entails some risk.
In my opinion, as I have outlined above, the benefits of re-opening the schools clearly outweigh the risks, particularly if it is done in a prudent, safe manner. Moreover, since over 20 countries have already re-opened their schools safely we have empirical evidence that it can be done. The Washington Post and many other media outlets have reported that none of these countries has suffered from further outbreaks of the CV. Therefore, there is no reason to fear that we would.
These other countries have provided a blueprint that we can follow. We don’t have to guess. We have seen what has worked and what hasn’t. Some of what has worked include:
- Staggered times/staggered days.
- Staged re-opening, as opposed to all at once.
- Require masks and social distancing.
- Limited occupancy, either through split sessions or separate days.
- Limit outsiders’ access, even family members.
- Frequent disinfecting and cleaning.
- Temperature scans throughout the day.
- Modify or eliminate gym and playground activities.
- Serve food in individual portions, perhaps in the classrooms, rather than by buffet.
I don’t understand why many teachers’ unions are opposing re-opening so vehemently. In California the union has gone so far as to hold school re-opening hostage to a list of far left demands such as defunding the police and ending charter schools as an alternative to public schools. What do those demands have to do with the CV and the safety of children? Nothing. It’s pure blackmail. The science and empirical evidence, as I have presented above, does not support their objections. Is the real reason for their objection politically-based. Some people believe it is for the purpose of hurting Donald Trump’s re-election chances. Frankly, I am not sure, but I would not put it past the Dems. Some political commentators have opined that in a presidential election year “everything” is about the election.
I can understand why some parents might feel uneasy about sending their kids to school. Home schooling is always an option, but I think the scientific and empirical evidence strongly indicates that the schools should be re-opened.