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Frustration mounts over continued school closures. It’s time to give Minnesota parents more educational power.

Frustration over the inconsistency in shifting learning models and continued school closures is mounting among Minnesota parents. Thousands have taken to social media platforms to voice their concern about the negative impacts closed schools are having on their children. From academic loss to social/emotional challenges, data show that keeping children out of school is harmful.

And given that we now have multiple studies showing schools aren’t the super-spreaders they were once feared to be, and that opening schools does not inevitably lead to increased case numbers, what is guiding school closing-related decisions? Are such decisions worth the damaging physical and mental health impacts currently playing out and the long-term impacts likely to play out for years to come?

A declaration (the “Great Barrington Declaration”) authored by three epidemiologists from the universities of Harvard, Oxford and Stanford, and signed by over 9,600 medical and public health scientists, 25,500 medical practitioners and 455,000 concerned citizens, has expressed “grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies” and classifies keeping students out of school as a “grave injustice.”

Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.

Fortunately, our understanding of the virus is growing. We know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.

Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching.

This is why our education system needs to be more student-centered—one that funds students and families instead of institutions. Not all parents are able to make the educational decisions for their children that serve them best because they are being limited on the learning environment they can access. Families who can are pursuing innovative alternatives such as micro schools or learning pods, but our state leaders and policymakers can and should do a better job of giving all Minnesota families more educational power to help protect the health, wellness, and academic success of our students.

If additional funds are to be provided for education because of COVID-19, they should be provided directly to families through grants, stipends, rebates, or even emergency education savings accounts. Because families have already paid for the ability to access public education, providing them funds directly would help them access other forms of learning that best help their child—from covering costs of schooling, devices, connectivity, tutoring, and course work.

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