The COVID-19 infection rate continues to rise in the United States with no signs of slowing down. As back-to-school season approaches, one of the biggest questions America’s leaders face is how to approach education in the middle of a raging pandemic. Should schools re-open while cases continue to increase?
Many Americans, including the President and the Education Secretary, want schools to reopen both for kids’ development and parents’ productivity. Many others, including liberals, want schools to be cautious and flexible to online learning in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. In this unprecedented situation, there’s no roadmap to guide the way.
Schools reopening is best for kids and parents
US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is adamant that schools must reopen this fall. In fact, she threatened to cut funding from schools that do not open for in-person instruction five days per week. President Trump supports her position on reopening, noting that closures have a negative long-term impact on children. And millions of Americans support schools reopening as well.
Income inequality exacerbates the negative impact of school closures. Children in low-income households are less likely to have the support they need to thrive in a remote learning environment. The gap between them and their middle-class peers is likely to grow with prolonged school closures. But, even children in supportive, well-equipped home environments respond better to in-person instruction.
Opening schools this fall also impacts working parents, many of whom have struggled to balance work duties and teaching duties. For parents who are not able to work remotely during the pandemic, ensuring their children’s well-being, safety, and development is even more challenging. Reopening schools will bring these families relief and stability.
Remote learning is best for public health
Though children rarely suffer serious symptoms from COVID-19, they can spread it. That’s why many educators and parents oppose schools reopening until the virus is better controlled. They understand the benefits and importance of in-person learning. But they argue that the risk of infection spread to school staff and high-risk family members is too great to justify reopening schools.
The CDC has issued guidelines on how schools can reopen safely, but these guidelines will be impossible for most schools to follow. For example, maintaining several feet of distance between students is impossible in the average American classroom. Further, if the virus worsens and a new lockdown is imposed, or if teachers get infected, the disruption to the school year could impede learning.
Hybrid efforts will have to suffice
Many school districts are developing policies that stagger in-school attendance and online classes. Others are investing what budget they can into protective classroom set-ups. These hybrid efforts will have to suffice until we learn what’s most effective and what direction the outbreak will take.