Consider how re-openings will affect disadvantaged students. If public schools open their doors, those with worse facilities will be primed for more HVAC-borne outbreaks; those that are overcrowded will battle to enforce distancing rules; and those that are understaffed will struggle to find subs when teachers need to get tested or treated. Parents who fight for their children to have in-class aides or special education and accommodations will have to fight even harder. Students for whom English is a second language will have more difficulty communicating with masks. Unpredictable cycles of opening and closing as positive COVID-19 tests trigger school shutdowns will be challenging for all parents, but especially for those who don’t have generous family leave packages or white-collar jobs that let them work from home. Is it any wonder a majority of American oppose re-opening schools, and opposition is above average among minority and low-income families?
Hybrid approaches and fully online education have obvious safety appeal, particularly for teachers. But only 80 percent of U.S. households have internet access, and being in that 80 percent is no guarantee of having a fast, reliable connection, or a functional computer, or a computer each student can use uninterrupted for hours every day, or the supervision most children will require to sit still and actually learn something. Families with parents who aren’t fluent in English will struggle to help their children when they’re confused or even get basic logistical updates from teachers and administrators. Distance learning doesn’t work well for younger children — kids in an irreplaceable window of brain plasticity — and few families will be able to give their youngest members the attention they need to make online classes viable.