Each state has a critical decision looming about whether to reopen K-12 schools in the fall and like many things surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, there are no easy answers. Some believe that the health risk is too great to fully open in-person classrooms, but others say that not opening is a much greater risk to children’s’ wellbeing.
On July 8th, President Trump threatened to cut federal funding for schools that do not reopen. He also criticized CDC guidelines that recommend classroom settings that are nearly impossible to achieve or maintain. These guidelines include eating lunch in the classroom in order to avoid communal areas, maintaining 6 ft. social distancing, and wearing face coverings. The CDC clarified following the president’s criticism, noting that the guidelines are only recommendations and not requirements.
Parents, teachers, and students vary in their opinions about opening schools. Teachers who are immuno-compromised fear that they will contract the virus from infected children and end up hospitalized or worse. Others fear that children communicating the virus will bring it home and continue the spread. One thing is certain: everybody wants to keep the children safe.
Keeping children safe means protecting them from COVID-19, but it also means protecting them from abuse and the lack of education in the home. Mandatory reporting of child abuse often comes from teachers who recognize signs of abuse and can safely contact authorities. Schools are often the primary source of food for children in households that are food insecure. Lastly, the lag in education could be alarming and disproportionate when schools finally do reopen.
Education occurring in the home during the shutdown at the end of the last school year has had detrimental effects on many children. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos called the switch to online learning a disaster for many schools and claimed some educators simply gave up. There will be varied and significant delays in the progress of crucial educational milestones if schools are not reopened. Online learning platforms work for some, but many parents are not available to ensure that learning takes place. Some fear not being able to return to work if schools stay closed.
Even though there are many arguments for reopening, these arguments lose their strength if lives are lost because of it. Thankfully, there is evidence to suggest that the health risks involved in reopening schools are minimal. Multiple European countries have reopened their schools without a significant increase in COVID-19 cases. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently announced its support of reopening schools with safety precautions, as current evidence shows children are less likely to become infected with COVID-19 or spread infection. This is promising, but there is also not very much evidence available, which casts doubt on everything.
At this time, it is unclear exactly how schools will reopen. Many schools are planning hybrid options that include some in-person classes and some remote learning. Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran recently announced that the state’s schools will be open 5 days a week for all students. All of these decisions are being made as COVID-19 cases surpass 3 million and claim over 130,000 lives with no end in sight. This suggests that any decision regarding schools reopening is subject to change.
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