“Close the bars and keep the schools open,” Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC last Sunday. In too many places, officials have pushed the reverse. Dr. Fauci was not advocating a wholesale, one-size-fits-all approach for the country to reopen schools but instead stressed the need to take into account local health conditions and capabilities. Dr. Fauci was initially more cautious about what schools should do in the face of an unprecedented public health crisis, but his thinking has appropriately evolved as more has become known about the virus. Schools have not been a major source of covid-19 spread; European countries — as well as states such as Rhode Island and private and public charter schools — have brought children and staff safely back into the classroom with strict safety protocols including wearing masks, social distancing and proper ventilation.
Also clear are the pernicious effects — academically, socially and mentally — of keeping children out of schools. Fairfax County, one of the nation’s largest (and wealthiest) school districts, issued a report showing how online learning has caused a drop in academic performance. Those who have been hurt the most are children with disabilities and English-language learners. Data from Montgomery County schools leads to the same stark conclusion. Superintendents across the country have sounded the alarm about failing grades, elementary school children struggling with being in front of a screen all day, and teachers, parents and grandparents stretched to the limit.