Time to Reopen the Schools

It seems almost incredible that in a number of states, serious consideration is being given to keeping the public schools closed in the Fall. Given that the coronavirus is rarely dangerous to children–less so, in fact, than the average seasonal flu–it is hard to understand the rationale for continued school closures.

The most commonly offered excuse is that the children may infect teachers. Presumably that is possible, but a U.K. epidemiologist said yesterday that “Scientists are yet to find a single confirmed case of a teacher catching coronavirus from a pupil anywhere in the world.”

Teachers’ unions are the main proponents of continued school closings, apparently because some teachers and administrators would like to be paid in full for working relatively little. The impulse is understandable, if not commendable. As usual, teachers’ unions are happy to throw kids under the bus.

The experience with online learning when schools closed last Spring was poor. When I interviewed Governor Noem of South Dakota in a webinar two weeks ago, she said that in her state, which has relatively high educational standards, somewhere between 20% and 30% of all students were never heard from once learning went exclusively online. They never logged on, never completed an assignment. I have seen similar numbers in other states. To make matters worse, the students who effectively drop out are undoubtedly the very ones who need the public schools the most.

Then, of course, there are the benefits of extracurricular activities and being with one’s friends. You can’t sing in a choir by yourself. You can’t play football by yourself.

Here in Minnesota, our executive order-loving Governor Tim Walz is pondering whether to allow the schools to open in September. My organization has sprung into action to pressure Walz to reopen the schools. We have launched a social media campaign, with messages like this one:

We drive traffic to OpenMNSchools.com, where parents, students and others can sign a petition calling on Governor Walz to reopen Minnesota’s schools. The site is still under construction, but the response already has been overwhelming. We also have billboards around the Twin Cities (soon to be statewide) that look like this:

And we will be on the radio with 30-second ads within the next few days.

I trust that similar efforts are going on across the country. The needless closing of the public schools is one of a number of reasons why, in my view, governments’ reactions to the coronavirus have done at least as much harm as the virus itself. It would be sad indeed if the folly is extended into another school year.

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