By Edward Achorn
The science is crystal clear. Children should return to school in the fall. They are remarkably safe from catching COVID-19 and from spreading it.
Cheating them of an education and social development again this fall would be incredibly cruel.
Yes, the news media have scared many people out of their wits. Polls find many parents are terrified of sending children to school. Teachers unions and other political entities hope, as always, to exploit these fears to advance their own interests.
But I pray it is still possible for parents and leaders to muster enough courage and decency to focus on children. Young Americans need thoughtful and well-informed adults on their side.
Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, is standing with children in this debate. It urges that schools be opened.
Here’s what it says:
“Almost 6 months into the pandemic, accumulating evidence and collective experience argue that children, particularly school-aged children, are far less important drivers of SARS-CoV-2 transmission than adults.
“Therefore, serious consideration should be paid toward strategies that allow schools to remain open, even during periods of COVID-19 spread. In doing so, we could minimize the potentially profound adverse social, developmental, and health costs that our children will continue to suffer until an effective treatment or vaccine can be developed and distributed or, failing that, until we reach herd immunity.”
My go-to expert on these matters, Dr. Andrew Bostom, an associate professor of family medicine (research) at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a trained clinician, epidemiologist, and clinical trialist, fully concurs.
Dr. Bostom notes that, over this year’s season, CDC data revealed the flu was five times deadlier to children aged 14 years old or younger than COVID-19.
We don’t generally close schools over the influenza. Any life worth living — any life other than one of wormlike seclusion — carries some risk.
Meanwhile, deaths associated with COVID-19 have fallen precipitously since April, according to the CDC.
We can consider ourselves immensely fortunate that children play only a minor role in the spread of COVID-19. Teachers and staff are at far greater danger of catching the virus from adults than from children. Many adults have ventured into the workplace, using sensible precautions, including police, firefighters and store employees. Why not teachers?
And the danger to teachers does not seem particularly great. A researcher from Brown University looked at “916 childcare centers serving more than 20,000 children.” The study found that, as of June 24, just over 1% of staff and 0.16% of children were confirmed infected with the coronavirus.”
Is that minuscule level of risk worth destroying children’s futures?
In California, the Orange County Board of Education heard from a wide range of experts this month who argued for reopening the schools. They noted that children cannot be happy or healthy without social interactions with other children, such as those that normally occur in K-12 education.
Children from homes where parents are working or otherwise unable to help them with education — poor and minority children often fall into this category — are especially at risk. All of us who desire an America where opportunity is available to all should care about them.
One expert, Dr. Sherry Kropp, recently retired superintendent of Los Alamitos Unified School District, argued that, in closing schools, “we have hurt hundreds of thousands more children than we have helped.”
Psychiatrist Mark McDonald addressed the paralyzing fear many parents now feel about sending their children to school.
“As parents, we will face many moments of anxiety: seeing our children off on their first day of kindergarten, their first day of camp, their first year of college. We may want to keep them home to protect them from the world, which can indeed be a frightening place,” he said.
“But let’s be clear, when we do that, we are not really protecting our children. We are only attempting to manage our own anxiety, and we do that at their expense. We are acting as negligent parents. We are harming our children. We are failing them. We must agree to make decisions in the best interest of the children,” Dr. McDonald said.
“If we do not — if, paralyzed by fear, we continue to act purely out of self-interest — we will ensure an entire generation of traumatized young adults, consigned to perpetual adolescence and residency in their parents’ garages, unable to move through life with independence, courage, and confidence. They deserve better — we owe it to them as parents.”
We really do.
(Read Edward Achorn’s books about American history.)