For many Minnesota public schools, last week wrapped up the first week of the new school year. Some schools cleared for in-person learning implemented a distance learning only plan to start the school year. Others started all students in-person. And still others were either fully hybrid or in-person for elementary students and hybrid for older students.
School districts can adjust the learning model they selected to start the school year as long as the model is aligned with the county’s case data. The question remains, though: Will they? The teachers’ union is “encouraging” districts to only reopen school buildings “when it’s safe to do so,” citing health concerns for students.
For families who don’t feel comfortable sending their student back to school, they can choose distance learning if their district has implemented a different learning model. But research and science strongly suggest that kids (under the age of 18) face a low risk of not only contracting the virus but spreading it. And there is very little evidence that school closures “have any measurable public health benefit in ameliorating the spread of COVID.” In addition, no evidence has been uncovered of any children infecting teachers. Schools in China, South Korea, France, Denmark, Germany and the UK all reopened schools under health measures recommended by government agencies, which the United States can learn from, writes John Bailey in Education Next. The long-term consequences of keeping children out of school are great, and early indications show the students hurt the most by school closures are black and low-income students, who were already being failed by the status quo pre-COVID.
The teachers’ union is also pushing back against reopening schools by citing health concerns for teachers. But according to a CDC analysis, individuals over 55 seem to be the ones at a higher risk of COVID complications. The average age of Minnesota’s teachers is 42 1/2 years old. Teachers 55 years of age and older make up 16.8 percent of the state’s teachers, with the largest chunk of teachers falling in the 30-49 years of age category (54.3 percent). Below is a chart from Education Next comparing Minnesota’s percent of “at-risk” teachers to other states.
School districts should do all they can to resume in-person learning if they aren’t already doing so. We can reopen schools and do so safely. It won’t be easy, but we don’t want to go back to how things were pre-COVID. We have an opportunity to make changes that lead to a better education system—one that serves all students. Will we take it?