by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Well, the Henderson County School board (HCSB) has capitulated to ignorance and fear to the detriment of students and parents. I write you because the school board is likely inundated with emails, they do not know me and they know you, and you usually read my emails.
The science can be complicated, especially when you treat all with the same wide brush strokes. I suggest treating the vast majority with what is most beneficial for them and individualized programs for those at high risk of serious complications from covid-19 infection. As I have previously noted, those of school age (up to 24) have not died from covid-19 in all of N.C. and only 1 death has occurred in those 25 to 49 in H.C., which likely include most parents of K-12 students, most teachers and most staff (Could someone check with HCSB to verify ages of staff?). Furthermore, only two in the age range of 50-64 have died in H.C. Unfortunately, the severity of covid-19 illness other than death and known infections, such as hospitalizations, are not reported as a function of age by NC DHHS.
It is likely that confounding conditions increase the propensity for severe morbidity and mortality in those 25 to 64. Those in this age group with confounding conditions could be specifically accommodated to reduce probability of infection and consequent serious illness. Epidemiological data are necessary to sort this out and define who is at risk in the school environment, but are not available from NC DHHS, which should be the source. Indeed, NC DHHS should be the leader providing information on how to open schools safely rather than burying it and refusing to answer queries seeking to bring it to light.
The perceived benefits of closed schools must be weighed against the detriments. 1) There is recent evidence that virtual learning for K-12 is far inferior to learning in schools with teachers and peers and that peer contact within schools aids mental development of the young. 2) Many children will not have ready access to the internet. 3) Virtual learning requires the presence of an adult, for many a parent, who therefore cannot work. The lost income especially for single parent households is a major hardship. 4) 24/7 contact between parents and their children can cause stress, especially without relief from peer to peer socializing. Some experts speculate that this stress increases physical and substance abuse. 5) Loss of income and resulting poverty is a known health risk associated with increased morbidity and mortality. These effects upon health, learning and wellbeing may be worse than the effects of covid-19 and have not been adequately accessed by HCSB.
The HCSB seems myopically focused on benefits of closed schools while ignoring the many detriments. The benefits noted beyond supposed reduced virus transmission include elimination of liability if students or employees contracted covid-19 (“I think, liability wise, unfortunately, people love to sue. So, what if someone did contract covid? Are we liable? Will they try to come after us,” board member Michael Absher said. [https://wlos.com/news/local/no-right-decision-henderson-county-school-board-grapples-with-back-to-class. downloaded 7-22-20]) Thus, limited understanding of the consequences of closed schools and fear of lawyers motivated the HCSB to keep schools closed.
N.B. HCSB’s implementation of plan C leaves much to be desired, leaving some students and parents without realistic options. For those without internet access and implied low household income in single parent homes there is no reasonable plan. All the proposed solutions for internet access require parental supervision for younger students, especially at internet sites away from home. There is an alternative: Open large spaces in schools such as gyms and cafeterias to students without resources. These large spaces can easily accommodate social distancing for students and teachers, who would be present to supervise and lend assistance. School buses can safely transport students to and from these sites with appropriate precautions.”
William Vine, M.D., Ph.D.