American Elephants


What To Do About Back to School? by The Elephant's Child

It is now August, and attention has turned to the back to school problem. Nobody seems to know what to do. So far online lessons have not been a rousing success. Some kids do them, some refuse, and some have not done any. Not every family has a computer. As the school year gets closer, the battle is heating up. Avik Roy writes in the Wall Street Journal: (There may be a subscription barrier.)

The second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, is preparing for its members to go on strike if schools reopen without their assent. President Trump has expressed a desire to “cut off funding” for schools that don’t reopen. It doesn’t help that the debate is taking place during the 2020 presidential campaign and a late-summer rise in coronavirus-related cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Teachers contracts are mostly school district matters, and what happens and what they are supposed to do and whether or not they get paid for teaching or not teaching is supposedly in the contract. Some teachers, naturally, are terrified they will get the virus in the classroom. Small children don’t seem to transmit the disease. Governors don’t know what to do, kids really do need to be in school, many parents (both) work outside the home. Teachers are not trained or skilled in creating online classes, and who makes sure the kid does the lessons anyway? Kids do not joyfully tackle a new lesson, at least mine didn’t.

We do know that school closures cause significant damage to children, damage that videoconferences cannot repair. Boston reported that one in five public school children dropped out. Many children from poorer families depend on reduced-price or free meals at school. The social science journal SSRN reported that school closures led to a 27% decline in reports of child abuse, because teachers may be the first ones to notice signs of maltreatment.

Other industrialized countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Germany, Finland, Iceland and  France reopened schools in April and May, and their experience has largely been positive.  Timing varied. Denmark was careful, requiring children to stay 2 meters apart whenever possible. Children were grouped into “bubbles” of 12, and required to wash their hands every two hours but did not wear masks. Denmark concluded that according to data from the European CDC, you could not see any negative effects from the opening of schools.

Children do not seem to play a significant role in the transmission of the virus. France started with a social distancing of four square meters and reduced it to one linear meter and they made attendance mandatory for primary and middle schools.

It sounds as if the greater danger to teachers is other teachers and staff. More and better information can be found at the CDC, the think tanks like Hoover.org, AEI.org, CATO.org, Reason.org and others. Here is an article titled “Open the Schools–or Kiss the Economy Goodbye” by Allison Schrager from the Manhattan Institute.

President Trump wants to see the kids in school. Some Governors just don’t know what to do. Many doctors have said they see no problem with sending their own children to school. Keep in mind that it is small children that don’t seem to spread the virus. Older children are another matter. I don’t know what the cut-off age when you start to worry is.  My three kids are long grown, so I am not affected, but I understand the concern. More knowledge will help.


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