Winter is coming. Four points for keeping schools open and students learning.
Uninterrupted classroom learning must be prioritized.
Following over 18 months of catastrophic school closures, most American children are finally back in their classrooms. But, with cases surging in Europe, there may soon be calls from the usual suspects to shutter schools as a non-pharmaceutical intervention — despite significant evidence doing so will hurt children and not alter the course of the pandemic. As WHO Europe Regional Director Dr. Hans Kluge recently said, we must resist the urge to cancel classroom learning:
“Last year’s widespread school closures, disrupting the education of millions of children and adolescents, did more harm than good, especially to children’s mental and social well-being. We can’t repeat the same mistakes,” says Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.
There is nothing more important for the vast majority of children than classroom learning. A Swedish study found primary school students in the country didn’t see their literacy skills deteriorate at all during the pandemic. Why? Sweden never closed primary and lower secondary schools, even during spring 2020.
With this in mind, I submit four points for ensuring a peaceful winter in America’s schools.
1. If (when) cases rise, remote options should not be reopened for new enrollment and children currently enrolled in remote options should be provided opportunities to return to classroom learning.
A number of school districts — Los Angeles and Atlanta come to mind — are currently providing students with virtual instruction. Given virtual instruction is a “suboptimal alternative” to the classroom, districts should not be tempted to expand virtual programs if cases rise in December and fearful parents demand their children be allowed to enroll. (Of course, medically vulnerable students should always be provided with appropriate accommodations.) Indeed, districts should be thinking about how to reduce enrollment in these “suboptimal” programs by providing parents and students with off-ramps back to the classroom. For example, parents could be asked to provide a month’s notice — like leaving a job or apartment — before children return to the classroom. Virtual instruction is not “school” — children can’t learn to socialize or resolve conflicts in front of a laptop screen — and we need to reduce its use as…