Finally, we need to recognize that some teachers are at higher risk than others, and be thoughtful in how we protect them. We need to invest in rapid, repeated testing schemes to provide an added layer of protection. Many colleges and universities have figured this out.
Following this playbook will require billions of dollars from the federal government, but the costs are well worth the investment. Education is hugely important. Unfortunately, our schools are not, for the most part, prepared to deliver high quality educational content online. Kids are also social animals and need safe in-person interactions for their mental health and development.
Schools are necessary for the economy as well. If they are not open, many parents cannot work, even if they’re doing so from home.
Closing schools also exacerbates social and economic disparities. In some cities, especially in poorer areas, as many as one in three children didn’t — or couldn’t — take part in online learning when schools across the country were closed in the spring. Students who fall behind will have an incredibly difficult time catching up. They will be less likely to graduate, with enormous, lifelong consequences.
There may come a time when the pandemic has become so unmanageable that we need to close everything, including schools. (This was the case when I argued that closures were necessary back in March.) But schools are essential, and should be treated as such. When we prioritize, they should be among the last things to close. Almost everything else should be put on pause first. This is what Europe is doing. No one can explain why, once again, the United States is choosing its own path.
Because schools are not the major cause of the problem, shutting them down won’t do enough on its own to slow the spread of the disease. When — not if — businesses are forced to shutter temporarily in the near future, we can tide them over with money, and we absolutely should. When schools are closed, however, handing students a check will not replace what they’ve lost.
American adults have failed in almost every way imaginable in this pandemic. None of it is kids’ fault. When we try and fix this latest mess, let’s put their needs first.
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