By Sarah Brill, Science and Technology Editor
There has been a debate recently as to whether or not elementary, middle and high schoolers should return to the classroom this fall. Thus far, the CDC states that schools should reopen as the rate of infection for younger kids is very low. They considered students below or at the poverty line when making this decision stating “further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities. These students are far less likely to have access to private instruction and care and far more likely to rely on key school-supported resources like food programs, special education services, counseling, and after-school programs to meet basic developmental needs.” A case has been made by the CDC in favor of schools reopening for both the physical and mental wellbeing of the students but there are also some serious caveats to their plan.
The main argument for reopening is that the educational experience online for both primary and secondary school students has been greatly affected. The CDC shared: “According to the Northwest Evaluation Association, in the summer following third grade, students lost nearly 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 27 percent of their school-year gains in math. By the summer after seventh grade, students lose on average 39 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 50 percent of their school-year gains in math.”
Schools not only provide an educational experience, but an emotional one as well. According to the CDC, for younger students “in an in-person school environment, children more easily learn how to develop and maintain friendships, how to behave in groups, and how to interact and form relationships with people outside of their family.” For older students, mental health services are provided at schools. “Among children ages 9-17, it is estimated that 21 percent, or more than 14 million children, experience some type of mental health condition. Yet only 16 percent of those with a condition receive any treatment. Of those, 70-80 percent received such care in a school setting. School closures can be particularly damaging for the 7.4 million American children suffering from a serious emotional disturbance.”
On the flip side, the CDC fails to recognize the fate of the teachers and administration of the school if students return. In most states, the average age of teachers is between 30 to 49 years old. This greatly increases the risk of contracting COVID-19. Age is not the only factor involved. The students are as well. It has been proven that the transmission of this disease is carried via both symptomatic and asymptomatic people. So let’s say that Jimmy has an asymptomatic father at home who unknowingly passes the disease onto Jimmy and his siblings. He and his siblings arrive at school the next day, pass the temperature check and attend class as normal. During lunch time, Jimmy and his siblings take off their masks to eat and talk, thereby passing the disease along to other kids and their teachers. It would be reasonable to assume that the teachers are at risk for some of the major symptoms, and the same goes for the students sitting near Jimmy. They, the students, might unknowingly pass the disease onto their parents or grandparents. In their report, the CDC did not take into account the safety of the teachers nor the parents and grandparents of the students coming home from school that day.
Then we have janitorial staff who clean the school nightly. Their job is by far the most dangerous during this time as they are the ones cleaning areas that may contain contaminants. It is not surprising that the CDC failed to recognize or take into account the safety of the staff doing the work that is meant to keep everyone else safe.
As for the students, the CDC reports that if they are back at school, their mental stability will increase. If the students, however, are unable to work in groups because of the six-foot distance and are unable to interact with their peers during lunch, then is it really beneficial for them to be in the classroom? It is also reasonable to assume that mental health services, despite being an integral part of many students’ lives at school, will not reopen, as many sessions would occur in close proximity which is against CDC guidelines.
There are both pros and cons to having children return to school in the fall, but it is important to note that even if there is the slightest bit of risk or worry that a staff member, student, or janitorial staff could catch this virus, the schools should not reopen. Risking the safety of everyone around you just so students can have a “normal” school experience should not be a standard.