Even though the heat of mid-summer is still upon us and the coronvirus pandemic continues, back-to-school season is right around the corner. With the possible exception of mask-wearing, no topic is generating as much debate as the reopening of schools.
Everyone – leaders at all levels of government, public health experts, child welfare advocates, pediatricians, parents and teachers – has an opinion. As a doctor, a journalist and, perhaps most importantly, as a parent to three school-age children, it may come as no surprise that I’ve been thinking about this, too.
School reopening has become politicized. It’s a source of tension within this administration, pitting those who want society to get back to normal routines as soon as possible against its own public health experts, who want to take steps incrementally.
Children as ‘political footballs’
President Trump has been pushing strongly for schools to reopen, even insisting that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revise its comprehensive guidance for schools because they are too “tough and expensive.” But CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield pushed back, saying the agency would not water them down, although Redfield said additional guidance documents would be provided.
Both Trump and US Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos threatened to withhold federal funding for school districts that didn’t reopen, and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow dismissed concerns about reopening schools by saying, “It’s not that hard.”
At the same time, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said reopening is complicated and he grown increasingly vocal about his concerns on the matter.
Even the World Health Organization weighed in, with one official warning countries not to use the reopening of schools as “political footballs,” calling the politicization “not fair on our children.”
Education is essential on many levels
Politics aside, it is important for schools to reopen because there are many benefits. Not only do they provide kids with an education and structure (and parents with a place for kids to stay safe while they’re at work), schools also fill social and emotional needs, and for some kids, they play a protective role, keeping them fed through breakfast and lunch programs, and being on the front line against child abuse.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents pediatricians across the country, updated its back-to-school recommendations and “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
The organization says the evidence shows that children are proba