Reopening Public Schools’ Classrooms This Fall

Throughout this essay, references to school children’s ages are for pre-kindergarten through 6th grade (ages approximately 3 through 12).  The reason for this age group separation rests with the following. Online learning media for children in pre-kindergarten through about 2ndgrade produces little “learning” because such young children have short attention spans.  On the other side of the coin; online learning media does not provide what such children need and get from classroom school;  experiencing socialization, co-operation, quizzing adults on spur-of-the-moment subjects, being the center of attention, being introduced to learning as “fun”, and probably more.  These are important one-time opportunities to possess it now or risk the future never having possessed it.  Online teaching is also known to suffer some not-insignificant percentage of students who do not complete their studies.  Only one data point exists from last spring’s abrupt replacement of classroom teaching with online teaching.  The City of Boston reported that more than one in five students dropped out (all age groups).  Additionally, children in poverty-level families are likely marginalized relative to non-poverty children for insufficient technology and lacking internet connections.  They also miss having food supplements at school, and having teachers paying attention to children’s appearance, which might suggest child abuse or food insecurity. This permits correcting by a social worker or school nurse.  Adults also suffer with their children if an earning-parent has to choose unemployment to be able to care for their children.  Pew Research Center finds that unemployment for women was 20% greater than for men.

In the United States, we have next to no experience of Covid-19 in the classroom. Schools were discontinued abruptly in almost every state in a single impulsive shutdown.  Europe has rich experience with classroom teaching during the pandemic.  The first and most obviously important statistic is that no teacher among European countries that reopened schools has been proven to have been infected by a pupil. The source of this finding is Mark Woolhouse, professor of epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh.  He further opines that no such event has occurred anywhere in the world.  The reason is because children safely up to twelve years old are not infected themselves with Covid-19 (but colds and flu, yes).  

Europe, in contrast to the United States did not panic; still during the pandemic, ten countries reported reopening and reported their conclusions.  Denmark was the first country to reopen schools and required distancing and hand-washing every two hours. The Danish Serum instituteconcluded it could not see any negative effects.   Sweden never closed its schools for those under 16 and reopened its high schools and colleges in mid-June.  They reported no increased risk for teachers.  France, on April 21, announced reopening of schools three weeks after new cases peaked.  Masks were required for secondary pupils, but none in the lower grades.  Institute Pasteur researchers found “there was no evidence of onwards transmission from children in the school setting.”  Distancing was reduced from four square meters to one linear meter and made attendance mandatory for primary and middle schools.  In Germany, Reinhard Berner, chief of the department of pediatrics at the University of Dresden’s hospital noted, “We are going into the summer vacation of 2020 with an immunity status that is no different from that in March 2020, and children may even act as a brake on infection.” The Netherlands reopened schools in May without masks or distancing.” The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and Environment found no child under twelve to be the “index” patient; confirming children do not significantly transmit the virus.  The New England Journal of Medicine confirmed the Dutch results for Iceland.  Without specifics, FinlandBelgium, Austria and Norway reopened schools without incident.  The ten European countries reasonably model the population demographics – rural and urban – of the United States.  Like the US, the most populous countries had similar overall findings as the United States in total. With the lone exception of Germany, all of the low death-rate countries have populations one-eighth that of the higher death-rate countries.  We would expect to find the same demographic in the US.  

Skeptics in the United States have argued that America’s performance was so much worse than Europe’s that the comparison is not apples-to-apples.  To the contrary!  If the performance of the United States were offered in the same way as Europe, we would be comparing States in the US to Countries in the European Union.  The totality of the evidence makes clear that leaving out high schools and colleges, the case for reopening classroom schools for the fall-beginning is compelling from the evidence in Europe. Now, ask who are the skeptics and their media supporters?  Republicans are 68% favoring classroom teaching, Democrats 13%.  Independents are 40% classroom teaching.  Teachers Unions have put a large emphasis upon keeping teachers out of the classroom in advertising and publicity.  The American Federation of Teachers has stated it is prepared to strike if schools reopen without their assent.  The preceding values are from Gallup and are for Kindergarten through high school.  That is an inherently greater risk pool than this essay is addressing.                                                                                 August 15, 2020