Throughout our bout with COVID-19, Colorado's children have been patient. You might even say they have been seen and not heard.
Our elected leaders have felt pressed by more urgent concerns as they've attempted to manage a crisis. Yet, with stabilization of this unprecedented virus at least within sight, and with the new school year approaching, it's time we reshuffle our priorities and train our sights on our children's most fundamental needs.
Foremost among those is getting them back to school.
With schools shuttered, kids have been marooned at home since the middle of last spring. And it wasn't as if summer vacation had come early, either. All their familiar extracurricular activities shut down along with the rest of the known world. From local libraries to laser tag. Spring-league soccer and basketball. You name it — all on hold.
Even playgrounds at neighborhood parks were declared off-limits — cordoned off with yellow tape; swings chained up; basketball hoops taken down. Meanwhile, most religious congregations, where so many children not only receive spiritual guidance but also enjoy social interaction, had ceased in-person services.
Instead, kids were asked to retreat into the digital deep space of online learning. At best, it proceeded in fits and starts. By many accounts, it left parents feeling overwhelmed by the sudden, added responsibility of overseeing the process, and they were unimpressed by the results. While online schooling is an important tool in the toolbox of educational choice — it can be highly effective in the right circumstances and, for some, is the only option — it's clearly not for everyone.
Despite that dreary and dismaying reality, the state's largest teacher union is balking at returning kids to class. Last week, the Colorado Education Association delivered a petition to Gov. Jared Polis and Education Commissioner Katy Anthes that included wide-ranging demands backed by a threat.
The union wants more say on assorted matters including masks and class sizes, and some of those concerns might be in order — though they also are being addressed by school districts.
More troubling, the union's officials claimed at a news conference Tuesday that eight out of 10 of their members surveyed said they would refuse to return to work if their conditions weren't met.
And they said a majority of members prefer remote teaching to reopening classrooms.
Meanwhile, as the state's 178 school district prepare to restart, some, like the state's largest in Denver, have announced they are planning to resume only online instruction for at least the first couple of weeks.
Some perspective is much needed at this point.
Make no mistake, all of us are apprehensive about the virus. While its symptoms range from moderate to none for most who contract it, it of course has been taking a toll on vulnerable groups with diminished capacity, particularly of our seniors.
Yet, according to available data and reassuring research, the risk to our children as well as to most school faculty and staff is minimal:
One recent report noted, "Americans under the age of 25 represent 0.15 percent of all COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S.," and that children 5 to 14 years old are seven times more likely to die from ordinary influenza.
The same report also concluded, "..there appears to be very low risk of transmission of COVID-19 from children to adults," based on "population-wide studies in Europe (finding) little to no evidence of children-to-adult transmission; indeed, children have generally received the virus from adults."
One of those studies of COVID cases in 20 European countries found the majority of children with the ailment had been infected by a parent — not the other way around.
That's just a snapshot of the data compelling Colorado policymakers to refocus on what should be a greater concern right now: our children's healthy development.
As no less than the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Robert Redfield, recently declared in public statement: "It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall ...�� School closures have disrupted normal ways of life for children and parents, and they have had negative health consequences on our youth."
Bottom line: The ill effects of keeping our kids out of class, accumulating and compounding by the day, vastly outweigh the negligible risks of returning to school amid COVID-19.
For probably most pre K-12 kids, there's no substitute for the traditional classroom. Directed learning, in person, by our state's many dedicated teachers; the three Rs and more, side by side, face to face.
For all the quips about kids being only too willing to while away their idle hours playing video games and following social media as they sit out the pandemic, parents know all too well that education ain't TikTok.
REPRINTED FROM THE COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE
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