Should Kids Return to the Classroom or go to School Online?
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down. Everything has changed from time with our friends, going out to eat, working, working out, and even sending our kids to school. Some of these, like going out to eat, may be small events, but even these are part of our personal routine and lifestyle that has taken us years to develop. The inability to perform this simple act has a huge impact over time as we recognize just how different our lives really are from the one we had before COVID-19.
Other decisions, like whether or not to send our kids back to school, seem monumental. Most parents think more about the safety of their kids than they do their own. Yet, we lack a nationwide Pandemic strategy from the federal government and each state is making decisions based on the priorities of their own officials. The economy is suffering too, and financial concerns further confuse the issue. Some leaders pay attention to science and others don’t. The pandemic has become a political issue, with liberals and conservatives often on different sides of the fence. Even for people who value science, the path is not clear. Some research contradicts other findings and new information is reported daily. How do parents determine if it is really safe to send their children back to a classroom setting?
Why Children Should Return to the Classroom
Most research indicates that children are less likely to get COVID -19 than older children or adults. Even when children are exposed, they are half as likely to develop the illness as are people in other age groups. The New York Times reported that although children make up 24% of the U.S. population, they are only 2% of the SARS-CoV-2 cases. Unfortunately, this number may be slightly off since children are less likely to get very sick and therefore may not even get tested. The CDC reports that children make up only .1% of 100,000 people with COVID-19, whereas people from the 50 – 64 age range make up 7.4% of 100,000 people. This means that children are significantly less likely to be hospitalized than are other age groups.
Other research indicates that attending school provides a significant opportunity to minimize racial and social inequality. Although these issues have long been concerns in education, the events of the summer have pushed them even higher on the nation’s priority list. Children who live in poverty may eat their only nourishing meal at school. In addition, they are taught by teachers who encourage them to do their work, in an environment designed to facilitate learning, and around kids their own age who are also focused on learning. The earlier children are around others from different environments, the easier they learn to accept differences among their friends and to find shared interests with those from backgrounds they would not otherwise be exposed to. These potential gains will not be maintained in an online school environment.
In addition, challenges in obtaining the technology required to successfully complete online classes are large in minority and rural communities. There are countless people in the country today that do not have computers and internet at home. In many rural communities, a working internet is extremely rare. One company donated mobile hot spots to students who do not have internet in rural Northern California only to find that even this technology didn’t work in numerous homes. Students without the necessary technology will find it difficult to succeed at distance learning.
Given the economic uncertainty of the current pandemic, many parents are eager to get back to work. Depending on the ages of their children, being away from home for hours at a time may not be possible. Sending their children to school has been the way many parents find time to earn a living. Even those parents who are able to work from home find it extremely challenging to work full time and be their children’s teacher. The necessity of earning money to maintain the household will likely push many parents to prefer sending their children back to school in a classroom setting.
Children are less likely to get COVID-19 when exposed, more likely to have mild cases, and much less likely to be hospitalized if infected. Many professional groups, including the American Academy of Physicians, have weighed in to recommend reopening schools because they believe that keeping children home is harmful due to isolation, lack of a stimulating school environment, and possible lack of food. So, what’s the concern about sending children back to the classroom?