Should schools stay closed until there is a COVID-19 vaccine?
- Even if a COVID-19 vaccine is ready by late 2020, “Most people in the US won't be able to get a vaccine until 2021.”
- Brown and Harvard University researchers evaluating 800,000 students learning math remotely during the start of the pandemic found that their progress “...decreased by about half, with the negative impact more pronounced in low-income zip codes.”
- Schools in China, Taiwan, Japan, Denmark, Norway, and Germany reopened by early May.
- A survey from the National Parents Union revealed that two-thirds of parents want schools to remain closed until a time when there is absolutely no health risk from coronavirus--even if it means that their kids fall behind academically.
There are several reasons why it’s not sound to argue that schools need to remain closed until a COVID-19 vaccine is released. For starters, approximately 30 million children nationwide rely on school meals as their primary source of daily nutrition. Continuing the school closure until the much-anticipated vaccine emerges means putting millions of children--primarily the urban poor--at risk for malnutrition.
Other consequences of schools staying closed range from decreased educational opportunity to compromised domestic safety. Reports reveal that during the coronavirus pandemic, domestic violence has increased. Violence against women is bad enough; violence perpetrated against children, or that children can see within the home, is unconscionable. The reality is that if children remain at home, we will see increases in physical injury and mental health issues among minors as a result. For some children, sadly, school is their respite against volatility at home.
It is vital to cognitive and social development for children to socialize with other children, as well as with adults other than their caregivers. Though many schools are putting in considerable effort to take learning online, no amount of effort can replace face-to-face interaction, even if that interaction looks differently going forward. Not to mention the real struggle of so many families who are now juggling homeschooling and working from home.
Additionally, there is speculation as to whether a vaccine is actually viable. If this bears out, it will be vital for us to develop ‘herd-immunity,’ which means either we would eventually have to overhaul the entire educational system in order to accommodate the lack of a vaccine, or reopen regardless.
COVID-19 has introduced an array of complications to every aspect of the American lifestyle, including our educational system. For the sake of public health and safety, it is imperative that places of high congestion--notably schools--remain closed until there is a sense of certainty for every American.
The main concern of public health officials when examining schools reopening is the high percentage of at-risk teachers vulnerable to the coronavirus. Data conducted and relayed by the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that 31% of teachers are over the age of 50. This large population will be put at risk if schools reopen without safety precautions. If schools open WITH safety precautions, there will not be enough space to accommodate every student in a way that will maintain social distancing. Because of the substantial risk of carelessly opening schools, as well as the improbability of being able to reopen them safely, there has been extensive research done in regards to eLearning. Despite the economic necessity of reopening the country, this pandemic has proven that schools are fully capable of operating remotely, as they haven’t had a choice otherwise. But interestingly, recent studies suggest that eLearning actually produces better results than in-person learning, as students retain 25-60% more when learning online. Additionally, the educational system is in a different situation than most workplaces because its employees (with few exceptions) are not missing out on their weekly paycheck. In essence, rushing the reopening of schools will not positively impact the economy; it would jeopardize public health and act as a forum for the virus to spread.