Who could’ve predicted the famous 1972 Alice Cooper verse, “school’s out for summer / school’s out forever,” would turn into the 2020 motto for those who are now basically trying to keep schools shut indefinitely?
Many educators and so-called medical professionals are advocating for either not opening schools in the fall or a very, very modified form of learning via online classrooms. Recently, Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, spoke about the danger of re-opening schools in the fall, warning that it imposes too high of a health risk for teachers. His solution? School should basically be closed until there is no danger from the coronavirus.
This attitude is also apparent in institutes of higher education; Harvard University just announced plans to limit their reopening in the fall to freshman only. The university will provide online courses to the rest of its student body. (Incidentally, despite this modified form of learning, tuition will not be lowered.)
There are many studies both in the United States and around the world that underscore the importance of social interaction in classrooms for young people and conclude online learning is not only ineffective but also psychologically detrimental to students. In 2015, during a time far removed from the COVID-19 outbreak and its subsequent politically charged theories about education, a study conducted by Stanford University showed that online learning was ineffective and actually harmful. The study showed that in a one year period of online learning, the amount of acquired knowledge was so diminutive, it was as if the students had not gone to school at all. And the students who are hit the hardest by the school shutdowns are are those who come from poorer socioeconomic groups – exactly the students who need education the most in order to succeed. In conversation with Dr. Scott Atlas of the Hoover Institution, Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw asked the doctor about the impact of virtual learning on lower-class families. The doctor explained that many of these families do not have the means (an iPad, an available computer or even a quiet spot within their living space) to institute online learning for their children.
“[Closing schools] has nothing to do with the children and that point must be made loud and clear,” Dr. Atlas said. “In fact, it’s harmful to the children.”
So, OK. We’ve established that online schooling is not great (or even feasible for some) and that schooling is extremely necessary for students’ educational, emotional and psychological well-being. But while politicians and officials seem to be ignoring these facts, elsewhere in the world the push for a return to traditional education is getting a brighter spotlight. In the UK, for instance, many pediatricians were pleading with the government to reopen schools for the health and intellectual good of young people. They even deemed it a “national priority.”
There is no question the collective mental health of students is suffering because of these prolonged shutdowns. Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a leading pediatrician who directs the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital and is editor-in-chief of the prominent medical journal JAMA Pediatrics published a piece where he eloquently outlines the long-term, lasting outcomes of these shutdowns on children. In an article published by NPR, the publication writes: “[Dr. Christakis] argues that the risk to children’s learning, social-emotional development and mental health need to be better balanced with the risks of spreading the coronavirus.”
Convinced yet? No? Then let’s get onto the science of re-opening the schools. It is now July. We have ample data and statistical analysis to show young people have been largely unaffected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Actually, there have been no fatalities under the age of nine in the U.S. There have also been no fatalities in the U.S. not attributed to co-morbidities for people under the age of 21.
The common influenza has been much deadlier when it comes to young people; COVID-19, as we well know, affects the very elderly and sick. About 50% of the deaths in the U.S. occurred in assisted living homes. The science for keeping schools locked down is just not there, especially when you look at studies – like this one conducted in France – that show children are highly unlikely to get the disease and just as unlikely to spread it.
Ah, but what about the teachers? As Dr. Atlas explained in Congressman Crenshaw’s podcast, half of all teachers are 41 years of age or younger and 82% are under 55. “We know the risk from COVID-19, the fatality rate for COVID-19 for people less than 60 years old is less than or equal to the seasonal flu,” Dr. Atlas said, adding that “there is no significant risk to the teacher population.”
For those teachers who are worried – especially those over the age of 60 – they can either not teach and allow younger teachers to take over their duties or they can simply advise via a computer screen while a teaching assistant manages the in-person classroom. This way, we can open the schools, which the science says we should do.
Here is a chart from May showing that only three people out of 15,000 under the age of 15 died of COVID-19 in New York City. The following statistics illustrate the incredibly small chance young people have of dying from COVID-19.
In the real world, school re-openings have not triggered large increases at all in COVID-19. In France, it has been conclusively shown that reopening the schools did not put the students or teachers at risk.
One ploy to ramp up the fear has been scaring people about a rare disease in young people called Kawasaki Syndrome. This is yet another fear tactic to panic people into keeping children isolated and out of a normal school environment. The noted Swiss epidemiologist Dr. Sadler explained when someone gets COVID-19, T cells begin to attack the virus-infested cells all over the body. In very rare instances, this can lead to an exaggerated immune response called a Cytokine Storm. Also very rarely this can happen in small children, which is known as Kawasaki Syndrome. It’s interesting, however, that this super rare syndrome is very easily remedied. The infected children receive antibodies from antibody-positive donors and they’re cured.
There is simply no scientific or educational reason to keep schools closed or resort to virtual learning. Let’s recap: The young do not get sick and rarely pass COVID-19 on to others – certainly teachers under 60 have nothing to fear, unless they’re also just as terrified of getting the flu. And if older teachers are fearful they simply don’t have to teach. There are plenty of people who could use the jobs right now. With the science disproving school shutdowns at every conceivable turn, the only reason to keep schools closed has to be political. It’s simply another tactic to stall and basically kill the resurgence of the American economy. This nefarious plot must be countered with strong scientific evidence. The mental, physical and educational well-being of our youth depend on it. Hopefully Alice Cooper was wrong with his lyric and school is not out forever.
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