by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Do school re-openings dramatically increase the chance of contracting Covid-19?
The conventional wisdom said yes and helped to justify school closures and transitions to virtual learning.
Nearly ten months into a pandemic, however, no one is happy with the paths many schools have taken; teachers are anxious and tressed; students miss the benefits of in-person learning and parents worry about children falling behind academically.
The data suggests the conventional wisdom was wrong. Growing numbers of parents and policymakers are calling for sending our children back to school. The question now is: Can we open our schools safely?
Compelling evidence from different parts of the country says we can.
Results from a recent report from the National Center for Research on Education, Access and Choice (REACH) are encouraging. The study examined school re-opening and hospitalization data from nearly every county in the country. Significantly the study used hospitalization rates – not positivity tests as a measured outcome because they are an outcome of greater interest and because hospitalization rates are not troubled by various measurement problems What did the study find? In 25 percent of the counties with already higher hospitalization rates, it was not possible to determine if in person learning, led to increased hospitalization rates. More importantly however, the study found, that in approximately 75 percent of the counties studied, in-person school re-openings had no effect on Covid-19 hospitalization rates.
Advocates for in-classroom instruction would also do well to read about how Boston area Catholic schools opened for in-person learning in September and stayed open amid a pandemic. Tom Carroll, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Boston tells the Journal Education Next
We’re not aware of a single case of someone being hospitalized, let alone infected.” Carroll said. Active cases among a population of 35,500 students, teachers and staff, have been running in the dozens, a tiny fraction of one percent,” in Carroll’s words. The experience has been cited by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and by the Wall Street Journal editorial board (COVID-19) as a demonstration that in-person learning , properly done, is not a risk to public health”
Meanwhile, K-5 students in Wake County Public Schools are scheduled to return to full-time classroom instruction next week while students in grades 6 through 12 will return to the type of instruction they had at the end of fall semester. While this plays out private schools in North Carolina have not experienced the large outbreak that many have feared and continue to provide classroom instruction with and practice measures to ensure the health of students, teachers and families.
COVID-19 is a public health threat. But it’s time we recognize that threat is not the same for all and much less of a threat for children.
With reasonable precautions the threat can be effectively managed, and we can return our children to where they belong: the classroom.