Closing Schools Does More Harm Than Good

By Daily Editorials

September 1, 2020 6 min read

It is safe to conclude getting children to and from school poses a greater threat to their lives than COVID-19

When the government tries to protect and serve us new with regulations, it typically imposes disproportionate suffering on the young, minorities, and other demographics that comprise a disproportionately high percentage of low-income households. A few obvious examples:

— "Clean energy" mandates raise utility rates. The wealthy it's a minor inconvenience at worst. For the lower-middle-class and poor it means less food in the cupboards and a greater chance of eviction or foreclosure.

— Minimum-wage mandates overprice entry-level jobs needed mostly by young people and others who have not developed high-level skills.

— Restrictions on school choice limit the educational opportunities of children in low-income families.

— Mandatory business closures, due to COVID-19, hurt some of our country's lowest-wage earners with jobs they cannot do from home.

— Aggressive mining and fracking regulations eliminate some of the highest-wage jobs one can obtain without a college degree.

This could go on ad infinitum. People who genuinely care about the poor should scrutinize new regulations because they always roll downhill. Economists call it regression.

Which brings us to COVID-19 and the unfortunate students told to begin the school year virtually, absent from the classroom, as school boards and administrators try to protect them from COVID-19.

A story in Chalkbeat Colorado, a publication focused on education, reports "tens of thousands of Colorado students still don't have internet access at a time half of students statewide are starting the school year virtually, and those taking classes in person may have to move online on short notice."

For upper-income families, virtual schooling presents a minor challenge. The children in wealthy households are more likely to have at least one parent at home throughout to help with online schooling and otherwise provide for a child's educational, safety, disciplinary, and dietary needs.

For low-income families, who seldom have a stay-at-home parent, merely obtaining an internet connection adequate for interactive learning can be an ordeal. Some school districts have tried to assist them by paying for connectivity or providing hotspots that run on cellular data. Throughout Colorado's forests and rural areas, consumers have no good options for broadband. When they lack a reliable connection to a cellular tower, the hotspot option does nothing to help them.

The Chalkbeat article includes the disconcerting story of a couple who sent their 6-year-old daughter 45 minutes away to live with her grandparents for the sake of internet connectivity.

"It was a disaster," the girl's mother said. It turned out the grandparents also lacked sufficient broadband and the girl ran out of good options.

A survey by Pew Research finds 1-in-5 teenagers have no home access to a computer and/or the internet.

With rare exceptions, schools should not be closed. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association reports United States children comprise 0%-0.3% of all COVID-19 deaths, and 21 states reported zero child deaths. It means COVID-19 is among the lowest threats to children. The academy "strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school."

"Families rely on schools to provide child care; a safe, stimulating space for children to learn; opportunities for socialization; and access to school-based mental, physical, and nutritional health services," the academy states. "Without adequate support for families to access these services, disparities will likely worsen, especially for children who are English language learners, children with disabilities, children living in poverty, and children of African American/Black, Latinx/Hispanic, and Native American/Alaska Native origin."

Given that 2,000 children die each year in crashes, it is safe to conclude getting children to and from school poses a greater threat to their lives than COVID-19 — yet, we don't close schools to save them from traffic. Suicide, the third-leading cause of death among children ages 5-14 — exceeded only by crashes and cancer — should be a far greater concern than this disease. Yet, a closed school can do little to help a child in mental distress.

Of all 185,000 who have died with COVID-19 in the US, 80% have been 65 or older with pre-existing conditions. More than 40% were in nursing homes fighting for their lives with or without the virus.

Older Americans with comorbidities should quarantine until we get a cure or vaccination for this disease. We should not deprive children — those who don't live with someone seriously threatened by COVID — of the right to attend school. Closing schools causes more harm than good, and mostly for those who can least afford another big and unfair challenge in life imposed by governments trying to help them.

REPRINTED FROM THE COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE

Photo credit: StockSnap at Pixabay

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