In practice, this means that the potential risk that reopening schools poses to spreading the coronavirus must be balanced against the devastating societal impacts of indefinite school closures. Keeping schools closed means that children suffer physically, emotionally, socially, and academically. It places an extraordinary burden on parents who have to figure out a way to balance homeschooling with work. And it exacerbates the achievement gap, as wealthy two-parent families with the ability to work remotely and technological resources to participate in distance learning are at an even more significant advantage over single parents in jobs that do not allow them to do remote work. There is also no feasible plan to reopen the economy that does not first reopen schools.
When school closures were under consideration in mid-March, the idea was controversial among public health experts. Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Obama administration, expressed caution about the idea, saying, “We must consider the huge societal costs of closing schools against what may be little or no health benefit — particularly if kids continue to go out and are increasingly cared for by grandparents and others who are vulnerable.”