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Case for Reopening Schools

NJ school closed
By: Editorial Board – wsj.com – July 13, 2020

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 children under age 15 have died from Covid-19. In a typical year 190 children die of the flu, 436 from suicide, 625 from homicide, and 4,114 from unintentional deaths such as drowning.

Only two children under age 18 have died in Chicago—fewer than were killed in shootings in a recent weekend. In New York City, 0.03% of children under age 18 have been hospitalized for Covid and 7.5 in one million have died. The death rate for those over 75 is more than 2,200-times higher than for those under 18.

Children so far have been shielded from the virus compared to working adults. But even pediatric cancer patients at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering were about a third less likely to test positive than their adult care-givers, and only one of 20 who tested positive required noncritical hospital care. In Sweden, which kept schools open, only 20 children under age 19—0.6% of confirmed cases—have been admitted to the ICU and only one has died.

Parents and teachers understandably worry that children might spread the virus. But a recent retrospective study of schools in Northern France, from February before lockdowns, found that “despite three introductions of the virus into three primary schools, there appears to have been no further transmission of the virus to other pupils or teaching and non-teaching staff of the schools.”

Teens appear to be more infectious. Yet schools that have reopened in most countries, including Germany, Singapore, Norway, Denmark and Finland, haven’t experienced outbreaks. Some schools in Israel had outbreaks last month after class sizes were increased, but most infections in both teachers and students were mild.

In any case, these risks can be managed as the Trump Administration has suggested in its guidance to schools: Space desks six feet apart, stagger class periods, make kids wear face coverings when possible, keep them in the same cohort, and have them eat, play and learn outdoors as much as possible. Teachers can also wear face shields, and schools can use plastic barriers in higher-grade level classrooms to separate them from kids.

Teachers who are older or have underlying health conditions deserve special accommodations. But employers and employees in most industries are making adjustments to manage through the pandemic, and there’s no reason schools and teachers can’t too.

States so far have received $150 billion in pandemic relief from Congress, much of which can go to education, and schools have received $13.2 billion on top of that. Unions are demanding more, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says schools have used a mere $195 million. Republicans in Congress should condition additional funding in a fifth virus-aid package on schools physically reopening five days a week. If some public schools or districts refuse to reopen, make the money available to charter or private schools that are open.

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Keeping schools closed while awaiting a vaccine isn’t an acceptable alternative. You don’t need a degree in child psychology to know kids have struggled with virtual education. A Reuters analysis last month found that fewer than half of 57 public school districts were taking attendance. About a third weren’t providing required services to special-needs students.

Teachers unions have fought to reduce accountability. United Teachers Los Angeles’s pandemic collective-bargaining agreement prohibited schools from requiring face-to-face online instruction such as Zoom or Skype. Teachers also don’t have to work more than four hours per day.

Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite warned that kids were falling through the cracks, which could portend an increase in youth delinquency and crime. Research outfit NWEA has projected that “students are likely to return in fall 2020 with approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year and with 37-50% of the learning gains in math.” Another half-year or year of lost instruction will be impossible to make up.

Achievement gaps will surely increase. Affluent families may supplement and monitor their children’s virtual instruction while working from home. But how can a first-grader whose parents don’t have that luxury be expected to learn virtually on his own?

“Missing school can have serious consequences for child health and wellbeing, particularly for students with disabilities or with special healthcare needs,” American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) President Sally Goza said recently.

Students physically in school, she added, “learn social and emotional skills, get healthy meals and exercise, and mental health support. Schools help identify and address learning deficits, physical abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. These are all critical reasons to get children back to school.” The AAP last week endorsed union financial demands on reopening, but the child health point holds.

Millions of parents can’t return to work if their children can’t attend school. Opening the schools is essential to the well-being of students, and teachers and administrators have a duty to make it happen.

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Source: The Case for Reopening Schools – WSJ

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