President Trump welcomed a group of teachers, parents, and physicians to the White House Wednesday to discuss how best to get American children back to school safely this fall.
Half of low-income families and 42 percent of families of color lack sufficient devices at home to access distance learning. Nearly 30 million American students rely on schools for free or reduced-cost meals, and more than 70 percent of children receiving mental health services do so at school.
Closed schools put vulnerable students and families at risk. When the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its call to safely reopen schools this fall, it explained that in-person school helps reduce children’s risk of abuse, drug addiction, and suicide.
The CDC has recognized that it is a public health priority to return students to in-person learning, and it has released guidelines to help communities do just that. “We are working literally day in and day out with governors and state education leaders to find a way that we can safely reopen our schools,” Vice President Pence said.
The bottom line: Keeping our schools shut down would do more harm than good.
“I thought digital learning was the future, but we have learned through this COVID crisis that we haven’t got digital learning to the point where you can really engage young people,” Dr. Paul Peterson told President Trump Wednesday.
President Trump wants to ensure that students, parents, and communities have the support they need to educate children safely this fall. He has called on Congress to provide more than $100 billion in education funding as part of the next Coronavirus relief package, $70 billion of which will go directly to helping K-12 schools remain open.
If schools don’t reopen in certain states or communities, funding should go directly to students, allowing parents to explore other options such as private, charter, religious, or home schooling to educate their kids.
“If the school is closed, why are we paying the school?” President Trump asked. “I’d rather give it to the student or the parents.”
Fortunately, the case for reopening is backed by science. There is an extremely small risk of serious illness to children from the Coronavirus. According to a Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics study, “children are at far greater risk of critical illness from influenza than COVID-19.”
While vulnerable populations in schools must be protected, most K-12 teachers are relatively young. The median age for these educators is 41, and over 90 percent are under the age of 60. For people under 60, Coronavirus fatality rates are so low that they are less than or equal to those associated with the seasonal flu.
“The science is so clear that the risk of death or hospitalization for children with this virus is so, so low,” said Dr. Melanie McGraw Piasecki, a mother of three. “But we know the risks of missing school are catastrophic. We probably don’t even know how high they are yet.”
Shutting down schools is not the answer. A safe reopening that follows public health guidance is.