School Reopenings Around the Country
If you are a K-12 student, chances are that you have not even stepped foot inside a school facility in just under a calendar year. A local event tracker named Burbio recently estimated that a third of students have not attended in-person classes since March. While a considerable number of students (~66%) have returned to in-person classes within the last few weeks, there is still no precedent for how schools plan to reopen permanently and safely.
This pandemic has hit school-aged children extraordinarily hard, with a 24 percent increase in mental health-related visits from children ages 5 to 11 compared to last year and an even higher rate of 31 percent for older kids. Food Banks have served an estimated extra 17 million children due to the heightened food insecurity caused by the pandemic. The virus itself, while mostly inoffensive to youth, has wreaked havoc in predominantly black and brown school districts as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C). MIS-C is a rare and dangerous complication of COVID-19 found in children and is more prominent in Black or Hispanic communities. This is an especially worrying concern in school districts like Chicago, where the school population is about 90% nonwhite.
Academically, the effect that this pandemic could have is still unmeasured, but if research is correct, many children could already be past the point of life-long consequences. In California alone, eleven districts have seen an 89 percent surge in chronic absenteeism among elementary school students compared to last year. An estimated 3 million vulnerable students, including those who are homeless, in foster care, have disabilities or are learning English, appear not to be going to school at all, according to a Bellwether Education Partners study.
A flurry of recent studies like those conducted in North Carolina shows that reopening schools rarely increases the community spread of the virus. However, when schools do eventually open, having a plan to support those students who have fallen behind will be imperative to make sure that the effects of the pandemic don’t vastly outlive the virus itself. Among the activists proposing comprehensive plans to solve this issue is Keri Rodrigues, a co-founder of the National Parents Union. Her plan, as she put it succinctly, is all about saying that, "If June is when every K-12 educator gets vaccinated,” then “July 1st is the first day of school.” Many programs like this have already been put to use and delivered promising results.
Robert Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, has also argued that perhaps tutoring will be the best strategy. Programs that include methods reinforced by scientific research, like specialized software and materials taught by trained recent graduates in a total length of 60 sessions, five days a week, with groups of no more than four students, seem to work the best. Slavin is an especially ardent supporter of creating a federal jobs program for recent graduates to work as tutors, potentially as an extension of AmeriCorps.
In conclusion, whatever plan is chosen by the Biden administration will be responsible for making up all the instructional time lost by children during this pandemic. At a time when education is already a big-ticket item, making sure not to leave the youngest and most vulnerable unattended will be the litmus test of this administration's commitment to education.
- Einhorn, Erin. “Covid Is Having a Devastating Impact on Children - and the Vaccine Won't Fix Everything.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 16 Dec. 2020, www.nbcnews.com/news/education/covid-having-devastating-impact-children-vaccine-won-t-fix-everything-n1251172.
- Kamenetz, Anya, et al. “Don't Call It A Comeback: School Districts That Never Opened Are Having Trouble Now.” NPR, NPR, 27 Jan. 2021, www.npr.org/2021/01/27/960868462/dont-call-it-a-comeback-school-districts-that-never-opened-are-having-trouble-no.
- Kamenetz, Anya. Keep Schools Open All Summer, and Other Bold Ideas to Help Kids Catch Up. 8 Feb. 2021, www.npr.org/2021/02/08/964524688/keep-schools-open-all-summer-and-other-bold-ideas-to-help-kids-catch-up.
- Mary Van Beusekom | News Writer | CIDRAP News | Jan 08, 2021. “Three Studies Highlight Low COVID Risk of in-Person School.” CIDRAP, 8 Jan. 2021, www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2021/01/three-studies-highlight-low-covid-risk-person-school.
- “Missing in the Margins: Estimating the Scale of the COVID-19 Attendance Crisis.” Bellwether Education, 10 Feb. 2021, bellwethereducation.org/publication/missing-margins-estimating-scale-covid-19-attendance-crisis.
- Zimmerman, Kanecia O., et al. “Incidence and Secondary Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Schools.” American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Jan. 2021, pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2021/01/06/peds.2020-048090.