Amid the fierce debate over reopening schools, CNN featured an Ohio high school that has remained open for in-person instruction five days a week since last fall with a COVID-19 infection case rate of only 2%.
For millions of Americans, CNN said, the daily scene at Watkins Memorial High School in the Southwest Licking Local School District near Columbus, Ohio, is “a reminder of how things were a year ago before pandemic lockdowns or a hoped-for future was still too far away to see clearly.”
Everyone wears masks and desks are spaced three feet apart, rather than the CDC guideline of six feet. Teachers have freedom to move around the classrooms and students, CNN says, “can easily ask questions and see their friends, in the flesh, in school, five days a week.”
Principal Melissa Ladowitz said she was “astounded” at how well the reopening went after administrators partnered with local health officials to make a plan. The push to reopen began when a summertime survey of parents found 70% wanted to reopen.
The decision initially drew skepticism from teacher Alisha Sleeper, who was scared of being exposed to COVID-19 at school. But she now believes the protocols are keeping teachers safe.
The level of COVID-19 among children reflects cases in the community.
“The spread is not there,” she told CNN of coronavirus infections. “We just set our expectations and the children have followed it, and it’s been fantastic. You get to middle school and high school, and you think that there’s going to be this defiance. … What we’ve found is they want to be in school and they are happy to follow our guidance and controlled environment.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has mandated that all schools offer in-person learning by Monday and is offering vaccines for all teachers.
Meanwhile, in Washington state, after teachers unions pressured Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to let them jump the line and get vaccinated before others, the Seattle Education Association nevertheless voted Wednesday night to stay out of classrooms, reported KTTH radio host Jason Rantz in Seattle.
Critics of the teachers union argue remote learning is failing students academically and the isolation is causing deep emotional distress.
‘This isn’t a partisan issue’
Public health and pediatric health experts overwhelmingly advocate that children return to schools full-time, points out political strategist Rory Cooper, who compiled a list on Twitter to support his claim.
“They recognize that the risks are far outweighed by the damage currently being done,” he wrote.
Here are some examples:
- Alice Kuo, chief of pediatric medicine at UCLA: “This isn’t a partisan issue. Our state and local leaders are failing to stand up for our children … and do what’s right. Listen to the science. Read the data. Follow the facts & reopen public schools now,”
- Pediatric and infectious disease doctors: “We cannot understate the serious psychological harm that prolonged virtual school has had on many children. We are seeing an epidemic of serious psychological illness that has reached a crisis point.”
- Pediatricians in Chicago: “Here in Chicago, parochial and private schools, as well as daycares, have reopened and stayed open for months without significant outbreaks and without impacting local
- 350 local physicians and psychologists at University of Michigan: “We understand that in the fall, there were many unknowns, and school districts were left to make an educated guess as to the safety of reopening schools. That is no longer the case.”
- World Health Organization: “Prolonged school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are presenting an unprecedented challenge to children’s education, health and well-being worldwide. Schools can reopen safely.”
- UNESCO: “Global school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic present an unprecedented risk to children’s education, protection and well-being.”
- Benjamin Linas, professor of epidemiology, infectious disease physician at Boston University School of Medicine: “Insisting on a zero-risk scenario for school reopening is a commitment to long-term remote learning, which most people agree is not acceptable.”
- Dr. Linus continues: “If educators and their unions don’t embrace the established science, they risk continuing to widen gaps in educational attainment — and losing the support of their many long-time allies, like me.”
- Dr. Emily Oster, professor at Brown University, organizer of COVID-19 School Response Dashboard: “CDC guidance makes it difficult to do what’s best for the country’s children: to get all students, in all grades, into classrooms five days a week, in person.”
- Archana Chatterjee, dean, Chicago Medical School: “We need to rely on science and not emotions to make these decisions. … Keeping them out of school will result in irreparable harm to their education, particularly for minority children and those from lower socioeconomic.”
- Allison Bartlett, professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, University of Chicago Medicine: “It will never be, and never has been, 100% risk-free to return to school. There are significant deleterious effects on children who are learning remotely, and that needs to get equal attention.”
- Suchitra Rao, Infectious Disease, Children’s Hospital in Colorado: “I had to make the difficult choice to abandon the public school system, of which I was a strong proponent. My children needed to be in school. I knew this could be done safely. I wish the same for everyone else.”
- Mitul Kapadia, pediatric psychiatrist, Benioff Children’s Hospital: “I wish people trusted the science. I wish people trusted the medical professionals and public health experts who have dedicated their careers to taking on these exact issues of school reopening. The science is clear.”
- Kapadia: “School closure in Spring 2020 was the right decision. We now know schools can open safely. We see it in public schools all over the state, country, world. Fear is guiding decisions even against guidance and recommendations from the medical and public health community.”
- Kim Newell Green, pediatrician, associate clinical professor, University of California: “This issue has been politicized, and the unions have inappropriately focused on fear and misinformation.”
- Uzma Hasan, division director Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Saint Barnabas Medical Center: “The mental health crisis caused by school closing will be a worse pandemic than Covid.”
- Sheila Nolan, chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital: “They decided to do a hybrid model. But now with clear data that transmission is not as high in schools as in the community, I think they should open for full in-person education.”
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