Pandemic Perspective #18 July 18
School opening part 2
The calls to re-open schools are increasing, led not only by exhausted, frustrated parents but by national child advocate organizations urging that wherever possible, students should begin the new school year in the presence of teachers and other children. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are among those who recognize that SARS-CoV-2 poses little risk to persons of school age but that more than education is involved.
In my last post I referenced coronavirus parties at school analogous to chickenpox parties of the pre-varicella vaccine era. That was a misguided comment, as brought to my attention by someone whose opinion I respect. There is a vast difference between deliberately exposing children to infection as compared with allowing them to be present in schools, where there may be infected persons. Still, the comment was misleading and not appropriate.
A major factor in this decision process is the recognition that as of July 17, 2020 there have been no deaths from coronavirus in children under the age of 18 in California. In other states and countries, including Spain and Italy where the disease has ravaged the populace, deaths among this age group have almost always occurred in children with underlying heart or lung disease. Until a vaccine is available for susceptible adults and children, including teachers and administrators, they should not return to school.
As noted by the AAP and other groups, schools help children to learn important social and emotional skills. Meals for disadvantaged children are important and so is the opportunity to identify situations in which a child is threatened by abuse or other safety issues. Special needs children are especially at risk but I cannot imagine any city that is unable to provide a separate, protected location for their special education teachers to educate and care for them. Both the students and their teachers can be screened in order to prevent transmission of the virus.
A national tragedy is emerging in that online learning is simply failing. In measured studies, minority children are most at risk of falling behind, compounding the problems that already plague that group. It gives new meaning to the phrase “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”