Reopening schools and child rights: are some students being denied their wish to return to classrooms?

Anthony LaMesa
6 min readMar 9, 2021

In this post, I adopt a child rights framework to briefly explain why it’s critically important that we consider child preferences to return to the classroom when school districts offer “remote options.” While the concept of child rights — specific rights possessed by children independent of their parents — may be alien to many Americans, they are a very real thing that responsible governments should strive to honor.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child — a United Nations human rights treaty the United States has signed but not ratified — states that children have “the right to express [their] views freely in all matters affecting” their lives and that their views should be “given due weight in accordance with [their] age and maturity.” The treaty also states that a child’s education should contribute to the “development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.”

In the U.S. right now, there’s no bigger issue affecting children than whether or not they return to classrooms or continue with remote instruction, but most public and private debates on the matter rarely incorporate child voices, and the very existence of a decision to be made — most European countries mandate in-person learning when schools are open — creates space for the marginalization of child voices and the violation of child rights.

The percentage of New York City high school students returning to classrooms later this month offers reason to worry. On March 22nd, the city’s high schools will partially reopen, but sadly, a year after first closing — and briefly reopening last fall — only 19.5 percent of NYC high schoolers — 55,000 of 282,000 students — will return to classrooms across the city. The vast majority of high school students will continue with remote instruction that one NYC high schooler described as “[looking] at a screen from the morning till three o’clock” and “not real school”:

NYC’s data is surprising, because surveys suggest young people prefer the classroom over remote instruction. One Gallup study of Massachusetts high school students…

Anthony LaMesa

Some thoughts on reopening America’s public schools.