In some parts of the country, it is apparently too dangerous for parents to drop off their kids at school for in-person classes, but if they wish to grab a drink at a local bar with some friends after a long day of monitoring their children’s remote learning, that is perfectly fine.
This is not a fluke scenario occurring in one crazy leftist California town or some stubborn right-wing hamlet. Instead, this is the current reality throughout much of the nation including moderate midwestern suburbs such as Olathe, Kansas and Fishers, Indiana.
Omaha Public Schools will go remote to begin next semester, though bars will likely remain open as they have throughout the November surge, adding the Cornhusker State’s largest city to a growing number of communities with illogical restrictions.
Lincoln, thankfully, has made the decision to keep in-person learning, even as the Lincoln-Lancaster County risk dial has made its way into the red zone and bars have faced stricter regulations. Still, there is mounting pressure for school closures in the Star City.
We have already lost a lot this year – sporting events, live music, family traditions and more than 300,000 American lives due to COVID-19. Along the way, the pandemic also killed off the notion of responsible cost-benefit analysis for many policy makers.
For some Americans, and what feels like a majority of Twitter, any face-to-face contact outside of one’s household, is akin to murdering grandma – excluding protests for important causes.
I understand their fear. COVID-19 is a very real and dangerous virus, especially to the elderly. At the same time, complete social isolation and economic ruin is also both real and dangerous.
For staunch anti-maskers, the task of donning a face covering results in complete outrage while they stay silent on the other side-effects of lockdowns such as rising food insecurity and domestic violence. Mask mandates have certainly not been the silver bullet in ending the pandemic, but the downside of mask wearing is minimal when compared to the devastation brought on by other parts of our nation’s pandemic response.
With the possible exception of New York Gov. Cuomo’s nursing home policy in the early stages of the pandemic, the long-term school closures have been the most egregious example of unnecessary suffering brought on by well-intentioned people.
I say well-intentioned because unlike most lockdown cynics, I believe most people in favor of the school shutdowns truly care about the students and want to keep them safe. However, much like helicopter parents, the emphasis on physical well-being has resulted in a strong negative effect on the mental health of students across the country.
Despite their cries of “follow the science,” it seems that many advocates for remote learning have failed to do so themselves. I hesitate to consider the majority opinion of mainstream public health experts as absolute scientific truth, but it is worth noting that both Dr. Anthony Fauci and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield are both currently in favor of students in classrooms despite the raging pandemic.
In the early stages of the COVID-19, closing the schools was the right decision. I still stand by my belief that in April, stricter prevention measures in general were the best option, given that much less was known about the novel coronavirus and it was unclear what kind of risks students and teachers might face in the classroom.
Thankfully, children do not tend to be major spreaders of the coronavirus, nor are they at a very high risk of a severe illness if they do contract it. This does not mean that children can never get sick from COVID-19, but it poses no more threat to them than the flu does in a typical year.
On the other hand, we also now know just how poorly a virtual semester of learning can go.
In June, a Wall Street Journal article concluded that virtual learning didn’t work, and their findings paint a dire picture of remote education. In the spring, an average of 32% of high school students in Los Angeles did not log in to online classes on any given day. Nationwide, 9.7 million students lack Internet access.
It’s unsurprising then that as another virtual semester wraps up, students across the country are flunking in record numbers. Fs were more common than Bs, Cs or Ds on the report cards of students in Nashville this fall. A whopping 40% of all grades St. Paul, Minnesota Public School teachers gave out this semester were Fs, double the typical amount. In Salt Lake City elementary schools, the number of students that failed tripled from the previous year.
While bad grades can be unpleasant to stomach in the short-term, the lack of learning can have long-term effects as well. Losing education instruction time, even for as little as 2-4 months, may even have an impact on life expectancy.
According to a study by a team of public health researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Washington, 5.53 million potential years of life have been lost due to school closures, while opening schools would have resulted in only 1.47 million years of life lost due to an expected increase of coronavirus community spread. Based on the distribution estimates, there is a 98.1% probability that keeping schools open leads to fewer total potential years of life lost.
Even if the nuances of the human experience are ignored in favor of the cold hard metric of increasing life expectancy, keeping schools open is still the best option.
Yet despite a scientific consensus that keeping schools open is the safest option, despite the record number of students failing virtual schools, despite the strain remote learning has put on parents and teachers and despite the socialization that kids are missing out on with online classes, schools are still closed in much of the country.
The Chicago Teachers Union, which has kept Chicago schools shuttered since March, recently tweeted that “reopening schools is rooted in misogyny, sexism and racism.” While the evils of misogyny, sexism and racism sadly still exist in American society, this argument against school reopenings is a bit lacking. In fact, if anything, the closing of schools may be rooted in racism and classism, as Black, Hispanic and low-income students had the biggest drop in math and reading scores compared to other groups.
To the CTU’s credit, they did delete the original Tweet and follow it up with a Tweet admitting that school reopenings are a complex issue which requires nuance, but their arguments for school closures are neither complex nor nuanced.
I understand the fear that parents and teachers have about in-person classrooms, and I suspect that the risk of a teacher or child dying of COVID-19, no matter how small, is enough to scare well-meaning parents and educators into staying home. Some fear of the virus is healthy, but when the fear of a virus outweighs the advice of scientific experts and actively harms children, keeping schools closed is borderline abusive.
When schools reopen, it is important for children and teachers with underlying health conditions to have the option to teach and learn virtually, and safety measures should still be implemented inside schools. But to keep them closed for the duration of the pandemic is choosing fear over facts.
To every school board member or concerned parent or teachers union member across the country, I beg of you: follow the science and open the schools.
Brian Beach is a sophomore journalism major. Reach him at email@example.com.