Jimmy’s Colorado Politics Column | Let’s get our kids back in class

Written by on July 21, 2020

As a proud product of Cherry Creek Schools, I was both pleased and relieved when I learned the school district plans to reopen schools for in-person learning. 

As I read up on its plan for reopening schools, I thought they hit the right marks.  The district intends to reopen schools for in-person PreK-12 learning and will continue offering remote learning.  They’re requesting parents inform their children’s school of their intentions in advance. So each school has a head count for in-person and (for K-12) online learning, enabling them to conclude teacher numbers for both.

Presumably, the district can then assign higher-risk teachers to remote instruction and lower-risk educators to in-person teaching.  The district also requires students and teachers alike to wear face coverings in most circumstances.

Contrarily, last week Denver Public Schools announced it will delay a similar in-person plan by at least two weeks.  It’s reasonable for parents to assume DPS may keep pushing it back, and perhaps even capitulate to remote-only learning for the entire semester.  This would be a mistake.

All Colorado schools should reopen for in-person instruction using the parents’ choice model: Give parents the chance to determine which venue — classroom or online — they prefer for their child. 

As I wrote last week, while I’m not a schoolteacher, I personally presented to dozens of fifth-grade classes about American government as president of an educational nonprofit.  I’ve seen first-hand how classrooms at schools of various socioeconomic statuses operate, and I managed to keep students attentive, so I understand how challenging this may be.  Even so, it is essential that schools fully reopen. 

A new report from The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOPP) lays this out well, rooted in science and data.  The report notes, “Americans under the age of 25 represent 0.15 percent of all COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S.”  FREOPP finds that kids aged 5-14 are “seven times more likely to die of influenza” than Covid-19.  Yet we don’t close schools during flu season.

According to the report, “there appears to be very low risk of transmission of COVID-19 from children to adults,” citing “population-wide studies in Europe (that find) little to no evidence of children-to-adult transmission; indeed, children have generally received the virus from adults.”

The CDC reports 30 American children under age 15 had died from Covid-19 by July 12.  As a recent Wall Street Journal editorial points out, data from Sweden, northern France, Germany, Singapore, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Israel — where schools either were never closed or have reopened — support the low risk to children and teenagers. 

Compare the relatively low risk of COVID-19 to and from children with the costs of denying them in-person education.  Remote learning is highly ineffective by comparison, especially for young children who require direct engagement with an educator. According to NWEA, a research nonprofit, remote learning means “students are likely to return in fall 2020 with approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year and with 37-50% of the learning gains in math.”

As the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics pointed out, children not only benefit educationally from school, but it’s also where they gain social skills, get better nutrition and exercise and teachers identify learning deficiencies, physical and emotional abuse, mental health problems and eyesight issues. Special-needs students aren’t having their needs met.

If you believe quality education is important, you want kids back in school.  Period.  And quality education must always be a school’s top priority.

Schools can absolutely take precautions in and outside of the classroom, such as spacing desks as far apart as possible, assigning supplies to individual students, grouping students by cohort and creating new school lunch systems. 

Moreover, while the evidence is dubious about the benefits of masks for schoolchildren, schools may mandate masks in most circumstances.  Districts, though, should provide teachers — especially elementary educators — with face shields instead of face masks. This way, students will feel more comfortable being able to see their teachers’ faces. 

Imagine an anxious kindergartener placed in school for the first time, and her new teacher’s face is covered by a mask.  No reassuring smiles, no comforting facial expressions — and no scolding expressions for misbehaving children.  Kids should be made to feel as comfortable and reassured as possible. 

Colorado school districts should take precautions, but they must reopen.  Meaning no more postponements by DPS and others.

Click here to read Jimmy’s July 20 column at Colorado Politics, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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