Like most things in this Coronavirus pandemic, school closures have become a political topic of debate. At the same time, schoolchildren have been suffering, growing older and falling further behind in their education.
The Start of the Debate
Preventing the overwhelming of medical systems all around the country was the biggest concern early in the spring, and school closures likely helped lessen the initial spread. Cities like Los Angeles and New York City shut down their school districts before any statewide orders, but the shutdowns eventually began to be enforced by the state governments themselves.
In Los Angeles, private and public schools found the transition to online courses difficult. Many students reported that they did not have access to reliable internet connections and felt they were learning less. Families now had to decide to either continue working or stay home to watch the children and hope that their unemployment checks would cover their cost of living.
Soon after families had to make these critical decisions very quickly, the debate began. Some states and mayors within them began to plan for school closures to the end of the year. Others insisted that schools must open in the fall. President Trump argued that schools needed to reopen for the wellbeing of all students. The data seemed to show that students were missing out on essential developmental factors like socialization, physical exercise, and even proper nutrition from being out of school. Many began to question whether continuing to set students even further behind so drastically was worth it.
The Debate Morphs
Data from educators stressed the importance of reopening schools. The CDC recommended schools reopen as quickly as possible, noting that while COVID-19 spread just as quickly among students, its harmful effects were minimal compared to its impact on the elderly and would encourage herd immunity. Critics immediately jumped on this announcement, arguing that it was much too early to reopen schools while a second wave was hitting many states throughout the country.
States that have already experienced the worst of the pandemic like New York are urging schools to open with the proper safety precautions. Other states that were hit hardest in the last two months, like California, have pushed for schools to stay closed and online-only indefinitely. Controversy has already been sparked in various school districts. In Atlanta, Georgia, the school punished a student for taking pictures of a crowded hallway. When it comes to public policy, it’s a matter of comparing benefits to risks and making a decision based on the data. In this case, what does the information suggest?