Closing schools must be a last resort

Remote learning has failed to provide anything approaching the quality of education that can be delivered by a teacher in a classroom. Evidence of the failures, particularly for children already at risk, is matched by growing evidence of the relative safety of in-person learning when proper precautions are in place.

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Opinion

December 7, 2020 - 9:16 AM

Since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, teachers, principals, administrators and parents across the United States have worked mightily to help students keep learning. Schools developed new curriculums, provided children with portable computers and labored to give some semblance of structure to remote learning. Parents took on larger, unaccustomed roles, troubleshooting tech problems, helping their children understand what was being taught and calming them when they struggled.

Even with these efforts, remote learning has failed to provide anything approaching the quality of education that can be delivered by a teacher in a classroom. Evidence of the failures, particularly for children already at risk, is matched by growing evidence of the relative safety of in-person learning when proper precautions are in place. The combination should spur officials to devise plans to get students back in the classroom.

“Close the bars and keep the schools open,” Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC last Sunday. In too many places, officials have pushed the reverse. Dr. Fauci was not advocating a wholesale, one-size-fits-all approach for the country to reopen schools but instead stressed the need to take into account local health conditions and capabilities. Dr. Fauci was initially more cautious about what schools should do in the face of an unprecedented public health crisis, but his thinking has appropriately evolved as more has become known about the virus. Schools have not been a major source of covid-19 spread; European countries — as well as states such as Rhode Island and private and public charter schools — have brought children and staff safely back into the classroom with strict safety protocols including wearing masks, social distancing and proper ventilation.

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