The principle guiding decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic has been to “follow the science.” However, the continued closure of schools does not follow this model and is in direct opposition to research findings as well as in opposition to the recommendations from scientists, medical experts, and political policy makers.
In a JAMA article, the U.S. Center for Disease control stated that children need to return to school because the risks of continuing to keep kids at home outweighs the potential consequences of opening schools. Science-based decision making doesn’t mean accepting those things you agree with and rejecting those you do not, it means making decisions based on the best evidence available.
And when our nation’s greatest infectious disease experts state this in the country’s most prestigious medical journal, that makes it the best possible evidence we have and is the direction we should follow moving forward. President Biden’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anthony Fauci agrees, stating students need to return to school and that the risk of spread when children are in school is less than when they are out in the community.
The research in this area has consistently shown children are far less likely to become infected with COVID-19, not likely to suffer serious consequences if infected, and are not significant spreaders of the virus. The overall evidence has found that schools overall are not a major source of spread for COVID-19 or connected to major outbreaks.
While you can find specific cases and small studies which come to a different conclusion, this is again not how science-based decision-making works. It means we need to look at the preponderance of evidence to make decisions, not specific examples. And as a whole, the evidence is overwhelming in favor of reopening schools.
Politicians across the political spectrum from Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey to Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden have called for schools to reopen. At this point, with the science and policy makers in favor of reopening the only thing keeping schools closed is a very vocal minority who has hijacked the reopening discussion.
It is understandable people are afraid and anxious right now, but that does not give them the right to make damaging decisions for other people’s children.
There is extensive research on the serious harm that excessive time on electronic devices and too much time spent indoors has on children. We also know from many research studies that a lack of social interactions and isolation is detrimental, especially for children.
The recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association, and Swingle, who is a leading researcher in this area, are: no use of electronic devices for children under the age of 2; one hour or less for those 2-5 and two hours or less for older children.
By forcing children online for the entire day in order to receive an “education”, we are trading an admittedly unknown but apparently very low risk of consequences for virtually guaranteed negative consequences.
As an educator, I can assure you that online education is sub-standard. Online education opened access to people who otherwise could not have received an education, was an acceptable alternative for a short-term emergency scenario like last spring, and provides the flexibility to meet the needs of some learners. But online education is not at the same level and does not meet the same level of actual education as real, in-person learning.
There is not the same social interaction or focus on overall application of concepts, just rote memorization and essentially testing one’s stamina for enduring long stretches of tedium.
Some parents are not yet comfortable sending their children to school and some educators are not yet comfortable going back into the classroom, which is perfectly acceptable. They can make that choice – for themselves.
What is unacceptable is when these parents and educators are blocking this option for parents who would prefer real education for their children and educators who would prefer to get back to real teaching.