The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a needed opinion that is strongly in favor of getting children back to school this fall. It's what the nation needs right now in times that seem anything but normal.
"The AAP," the group's statement reads, "strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school."
"Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being," AAP's statement points out. They "provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits."
Importantly, at a time when political extremists ridiculously scream "racism!" at anyone who just wants to end lockdowns, AAP points out the significant and disparate racial effect of school closures. For wealthier suburban communities that happen to be mostly white, a school closure is an annoyance. For poorer neighborhoods where the children are more dependent on schools for daily meals, social work, and medical attention, these closures can be far more serious and disruptive.
AAP also points out that the risk of COVID-19 to children and the risk of its spread to children was initially overestimated. Health officials began with a prudent but incorrect assumption that it would be similar to the flu. Instead, it has proven to be minimal.
"The preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection," AAP's statement says. "In addition, children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection. Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home."
AAP's welcome opinion should be accompanied by an important caveat that is not stated explicitly often enough. The strategy of making the population shelter in place for months on end is not a tried-and-true strategy against disease but a modern experiment. Originally, "quarantines" in the era of the Black Death were for only 40 days (hence the name). Any isolation strategy that lasts into the fall implies the unrealistic goal of stopping all infections. That's not going to happen.
The U.S. medical system survived the onslaught of early cases. Through social distancing, the states, some with more success than others, flattened the curve, and today, they have brought the number of daily COVID-19 deaths down from its April peak.
Mask-wearing and social distancing measures remain prudent and useful, but there's no reason to believe that five or six or even two more months of locking down businesses will confer additional benefits. At some point, almost everyone is going to get the coronavirus. The goal of public health policy all along was simply to make sure it didn't happen to everyone at the same time.
Above all, the AAP recommends flexibility in dealing with threats in the area of education. Even if new information arises that appears to justify further school closures, the media scare about a second wave of infections does not. We now have proven treatments for COVID-19, and a higher share of those now testing positive for the coronavirus are younger and less vulnerable. The decline in death rates, even as the number of hospitalizations has ticked upward, reflects a threat that is diminishing in its potency.
As for distance learning, the recent crisis has taught everyone that it has its limits. Some parents, happy with the results of the last few months, might choose online education from here on out, and good luck to them. But many parents will agree that, in most school systems, what's available is slapdash and simply lacks academic rigor. It's time to get children back into school where they belong in time for this fall.
The Washington Examiner
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