Three approaches to reopening schools

Germany and France are set to reopen schools. However, the two nations are taking very different approaches.

Germany is starting with two sets of students. Those about to move from primary school to secondary school and those about to take graduation/college entrance examinations will be the first back. Germany is still considering when other sets of students will be allowed to return.

France will start with a much younger group of students. It plans to reopen kindergartens and elementary schools starting on May 11 (a week from today). The reopening will be voluntary in the sense that parents are permitted to keep their kids at home.

The case for starting with the youngest students may be based on evidence that the very young are far less vulnerable than others to the Wuhan coronavirus. However, older children and young adults don’t seem to be vulnerable, either.

The case for starting with those transitioning to secondary school and those who are scheduled to take examinations presumably is based on the idea that these groups need to get started sooner than others.

One potential problem with France’s approach is that it’s difficult to imagine kindergarten and early-grade students complying with the social distancing rules the government plans to impose. In addition, I wonder whether French authorities have any clear idea of how many students will return and how many will be kept at home by their parents. Such uncertainty reduces staffing decisions to guesswork.

There’s also the fact that France is faring significantly worse than Germany in this pandemic. Paris has been very hard hit, and mayors in the Paris area are urging the French government not to reopen kindergartens and elementary schools in this region on May 11.

When Norway and Denmark reopened their schools, they started with the youngest students. However, unlike France, neither country was hit hard by the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, William Bennett and Seth Leibsohn argue that the U.S. never should have closed its schools in the first place. I take it they would have all students come back as soon as possible. (Perhaps they would consider the case for keeping AP U.S. History classes shut down.)

Bennett and Leibsohn acknowledge that “it was perhaps understandable that at the beginning of the outbreak, with predictions of millions dead, we quickly and immediately put a pause on our nation’s schools.” However, it is now “clearer that children were far more affected by other and worse problems for them than the coronavirus,” and thus “the schools should have opened up.”

However, in the U.S., schools are still debating when and if they can re-open this term, or re-open for summer school, or even in the fall.

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