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Anya Kamenetz, education reporter for NPR, writes here about research findings that suggest the risk of reopening schools during the pandemic have been exaggerated.
Of course, there is good reason to be concerned because the U.S. Congress has not passed the funding needed by schools for safe reopening. Congress has bailed out major corporations, but allotted only $13.2 billion for the nation’s nearly 100,000 schools and more than 50 million students. Public schools were not allowed to request money from the $660 Billion Paycheck Protection Program, but charter schools, private schools, and religious schools were eligible to request PPP funding, and some received millions of dollars.
Despite widespread concerns, two new international studies show no consistent relationship between in-person K-12 schooling and the spread of the coronavirus. And a third study from the United States shows no elevated risk to childcare workers who stayed on the job.
Combined with anecdotal reports from a number of U.S. states where schools are open, as well as a crowdsourced dashboard of around 2,000 U.S. schools, some medical experts are saying it’s time to shift the discussion from the risks of opening K-12 schools to the risks of keeping them closed.
“As a pediatrician, I am really seeing the negative impacts of these school closures on children,” Dr. Danielle Dooley, a medical director at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., told NPR. She ticked off mental health problems, hunger, obesity due to inactivity, missing routine medical care and the risk of child abuse — on top of the loss of education. “Going to school is really vital for children. They get their meals in school, their physical activity, their health care, their education, of course.”
While agreeing that emerging data is encouraging, other experts said the United States as a whole has made little progress toward practices that would allow schools to make reopening safer — from rapid and regular testing, to contact tracing to identify the source of outbreaks, to reporting school-associated cases publicly, regularly and consistently.
“We are driving with the headlights off, and we’ve got kids in the car,” said Melinda Buntin, chair of the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt School of Medicine, who has argued for reopening schools with precautions.