School supply lists are an annual tradition; parents know that every August, they’ll start filling backpacks with pencils and paper and three-ring binders. This year is different: It includes masks, hand sanitizer, and an awful lot of uncertainty.
That uncertainty isn’t good for families. For our children’s sake, we must reopen schools for in-person learning. President Trump’s new “Kids First” plan will help enable school districts to do just that.
“We believe many school districts can now reopen safely, provided they implement mitigation measures and health protocols to protect families, protect teachers, and to protect students,” the president said.
Leading voices are coming together in agreement: These indefinite school closures are hurting our children.
“Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being,” the American Academy of Pediatrics says, because schools “provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits.”
And just last month, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine warned against a distance-only model, saying that “school districts should prioritize reopening schools full time, especially for grades K-5 and students with special needs.” Its data shows that with precautions, schools can and should bring back the students. “In grades K-3, children are still developing the skills to regulate their own behavior, emotions, and attention, and therefore struggle with distance learning,” the warning says.
Though American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten has threatened “safety strikes” by teachers in Texas, Arizona, and Florida, the terms presented by the teachers unions are more about securing their positions than safety. They include things such as a moratorium on charter schools and ridding schools of police resource officers. But even she acknowledges, “In-person schooling is really important for kids, academically, socially and emotionally.”
Even Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is now saying we should reopen schools.
Scott Atlas, the White House’s new adviser on COVID-19, says the science supports reopening schools. He points to the countries that have reopened their campuses for learning or never closed them at all. He notes that “the risk to children from this disease for fatality is nearly zero” and that children “rarely transmit the disease to adults.”
As for the teachers who feel they themselves might be vulnerable, we have tools at hand — social distancing, masks, and even (when logistics can be worked out) teaching from home, he adds.
The problem, Atlas and others note, is that no one is talking about the harm to children who are forced to stay home.
As the American Academy of Pediatrics’s official journal explains, “Almost 6 months into the pandemic, accumulating evidence and collective experience argue that children, particularly school-aged children, are far less important drivers of SARS-CoV-2 transmission than adults. Therefore, serious consideration should be paid toward strategies that allow schools to remain open, even during periods of COVID-19 spread.”
Enriqueta Bond authored the aforementioned report for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “This pandemic has laid bare the deep, enduring inequities that afflict our country and our schools,” she says. “Many of the communities hardest hit by the virus are also home to schools with the least resources and the greatest challenges. Education leaders need to be careful when making the decision to reopen to not exacerbate these inequities.”
Let’s face it: Distance learning last spring was, for many families, a disaster. Children are starting out the coming school year much further behind than they would have been otherwise.
The pandemic has changed everything. Its effects will continue to be felt for years. But we must not allow it to damage the educational careers of a whole generation of children permanently with indefinite distance learning.
With the tools that Trump has given us in his “Kids First” effort, we can reopen schools safely. For the sake of our children, we must do so.