CAPITAL IDEAS – The Road to Reopening: Where we are and where we need to go to open up our schools and meet the needs of children
Recent studies by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Brown University have all found extremely low rates of COVID-19 transmission in schools that have stayed open during the pandemic, even in areas of high community transmission.
The studies conclude that schools that have been closed can be reopened safely. The director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, has said that vaccinations for teachers are not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools, despite claims to the contrary by the teachers unions.
School closures have resulted in huge learning losses in math and English for children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In California school districts, more students are receiving failing grades due to the pandemic and record numbers of students statewide are failing to enroll in school.
New data show that school closures have had a devastating impact on children’s mental and emotional health. Child suicides have skyrocketed in places like Clark County, Nevada and Pima County, Arizona. The CDC says that one in four young people have contemplated suicide and that emergency room visits by children for mental health problems have increased dramatically.
School reopening guidance from the CDC and California’s recently-enacted reopening law link reopening of schools to community transmission rates of COVID-19, despite scientific evidence showing that in-school transmission rates are much lower than community transmission rates. Thus, linking reopening of schools to community transmission rates will result in slowing the pace of school reopening.
Besides reopening schools quickly, policymakers must address the lack of education options facing parents. With public schools closed, parents with means can send their children to private schools that have remained open. However, many cannot afford private school tuition. Various states have enacted or are proposing wider school-choice options for parents during the COVID-19 era. California leaders should do the same and give parents the ability to choose the learning option that best meets the needs of their children.