There’s plenty of contrary evidence, however. A study in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that children may carry enough virus to spread the pandemic. The coronavirus raced through a sleepaway camp in Georgia so that 76 percent of campers and staff members for whom test results were available tested positive. Schools in at least five states reopened and then had to close again, at least temporarily, after eruptions of the virus — a particular problem in parts of the country that did not take the pandemic seriously.
Putting aside the health impact, we also know that low-income children suffer disproportionately not only from the virus, but also from school closures. McKinsey has estimated that prolonged closures could cost students up to 14 months of education and lead to one million additional high school dropouts. The educational losses would reduce lifetime earnings of students by $80,000 each, with Black and Latino students suffering percentage drops in incomes twice as great as those among whites, McKinsey calculated.
Given all this, the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics seems right, that we do everything possible to allow children to safely resume in-person learning.
That’s especially true for special needs students (about 14 percent of enrollment), as well as low-income pupils and those at risk of dropping out. But this isn’t about rashly herding children into schools, but about doing all that can be done to make schools safe. That means aggressive testing, mask-wearing, open windows, outdoor classes when possible and grouping students in pods, and it will require much more federal assistance for schools.
Let’s also embrace Bandwidth for All, modeled on rural electrification in the 1930s and ’40s. The internet is as essential today as electricity was then.
There will be some places in the United States where coronavirus prevalence is so high that in-person schooling will have to be suspended, but that should be the exception. It’s absurd that we have allowed liquor stores, gyms, gun shops, restaurants and marijuana dispensaries to operate while keeping schools shut.
Let’s also remember that in a larger sense the best way to reopen schools is to demand responsibility from our leaders and all the rest of us. The path is straightforward: Control the virus with masks, business lockdowns, social distancing, aggressive testing and rigorous surveillance (including sewage testing, which gives early warning that the virus is present). If our peer countries can do it, we can, too. Our children are worth it.
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