Foss: Keeping schools open should be a priority

Shane Bargy, executive director at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Schenectady, seen last November, says they are determined to stay open at the facility to provide a safe, nurturing space. (Gazette file photo)
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Shane Bargy, executive director at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Schenectady, seen last November, says they are determined to stay open at the facility to provide a safe, nurturing space. (Gazette file photo)

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, News, Sara Foss

Over the past few months, I’ve spoken with children and parents about how school closures have affected them. I’ve spoken with friends of school-age children. I’ve seen how much my own son has enjoyed being in daycare with other kids his own age. 

These conversations and observations have reinforced my belief that keeping schools open is of critical importance 

Right now, too many children are spending all or part of their school day learning remotely on computers, and they’re losing out. 

They’re losing out on a quality education, and the peer relationships that play such a crucial role in their social and emotional development. 

Data from some districts suggests that the school closures in the spring resulted in significant learning loss. 

In Washington, D.C., the number of kindergarten through second graders meeting literacy goals at the start of the school year compared to one year prior has declined 11 percent. In Dallas, Texas, fifth grade reading scores on start-of-year assessments were a whopping 21 percentage points lower than those recorded in 2019. 

We’ll be dealing with the educational consequences of the pandemic for some time, which is why we need to make keeping schools open a priority, even as COVID-19 cases rise. 

When I talk to local youth leaders, they tell me they’re worried about the students they serve, and the impact of prolonged school closures and heavy doses of remote learning on their health and well-being. In Schenectady, grades 7-12 are all-remote, and the students I’ve spoken with are well aware that they’re not getting the education they deserve. 

“Our children are getting brushed under the rug in terms of their mental health,” John Sumpter, assistant director at Creative Connections Clubhouse, a drug-free youth program in Amsterdam, told me last week. 

Others, such as Shane Bargy, executive director at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Schenectady, have said they are determined to stay open. 

“There will be irreparable damage to the development of these kids if we don’t work together [to support them],” said Bargy, who is part of a coalition of local non-profits and youth leaders working to provide safe, nurturing spaces Schenectady youth can go to during the day.   

In a research paper recently published in the journal JAMA pediatrics, Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, estimates that 5.53 million years of life could be lost as a result of school closures in the U.S.

“And everybody says, ‘Well, we can’t send kids to school if it’s going to cost lives,’ Christakis said, in an interview with National Public Radio. “But in fact, not sending kids to school also costs lives.”

Is there a point when it might make sense to close schools again, as part of a broader effort to get the pandemic under control? 

Yes, probably. 

But it’s important to note that schools do not appear to be major sources of COVID-19 spread, especially for young children. 

This might explain why Europe has kept schools open, even as a second wave of coronavirus washes over the continent. Officials there have implemented new shutdowns, closing indoor dining and bars, while opting to prioritize the education of their youth.

Here in the U.S., the nation’s largest school district, New York City, is poised to go fully remote if the city’s test positivity rate crosses 3 percent, something Mayor Bill de Blasio has warned is imminent. 

A better approach is the one most local districts are using, of shutting down classrooms or schools with COVID-19 cases and asking students and staff to quarantine. 

This is no fun for anyone — I know several people who have been told to quarantine because of a possible COVID exposure at school — but preferable to the large-scale school shutdowns we saw last spring. Another option might be a short two- or three-day shutdown that overlaps with a winter break. 

In some cities, like Boston, rising caseloads have prompted officials to shut down schools, but not riskier settings like bars, restaurants and gyms. 

I’m sorry, but that makes no sense.

Schools should be the last thing we shut down as we grapple with this new stage of the pandemic. 

Children have already lost too many days in the classroom, and we should do everything possible to ensure they don’t lose any more.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

 

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