By now, we all know our schooling options: Send kids every day, a couple of days per week, or keep them home dnd engaged in full-time remote instruction. Choiceless choices, stuck as we are in COVID’s grip.

What’s a parent to do?

For answers and guidance, Education Week’s Catherine Gewertz sought out Dr. Ashish K. Jha, formerly Harvard’s Global Health Institute’s director and currently dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.

What follows are excerpts from that conversation:

  • On remote instruction: “There’s no doubt in my mind that schools need to be bolder than they’re being. There is a large mental health cost to children. And we know this is going to very substantially widen the achievement gap between wealthier/white students and poorer/students of color. The effect is going to be felt for a very long time. Obviously, if going back to in-person education was going to lead to a lot of infections and deaths, you’d say OK, that’s a cost we can’t bear. But districts that are being too cautious are doing enormous harm to children and families in their communities.
  • On the danger in-school spreading COVID-19: “… I talk to teachers, and they might say, well, in the lunchroom, a student might walk within 6 feet [of another student]. It’s not like if you walk within 6 feet for five seconds, you’ll catch the virus. That’s not how it works. That deep fear people have has meant, unfortunately, that we’re not having a science-based debate about schools.”
  • On a return to school as COVID-19 cases surge: “… What we know right now is that schools don’t appear to be a place where there is a lot of spread happening. If a state said look, we’ve pulled back everything—restaurants, bars, gyms, they’re all closed, and yet we’re still seeing a spread—then you have to say schools could be on the list to pull back on. But what’s happening is that there are other things that are far more high risk that we’re leaving open while being remote in schools, and that doesn’t make any sense. I’m not saying schools should never close. They probably should at some point if things get really horrible. But the idea that schools should be the first casualty before casino, bars, and restaurants, in my mind, defies logic.

He adds: “… I’ve heard districts say, ‘We can’t reopen because we can’t get touchless sanitizer dispensers.’ This is insane. Taking days off to do deep cleaning? I don’t even know what ‘deep cleaning’ is. Temperature taking is useless and I wouldn’t do it. It’s hygiene theater. It makes you feel good… If you have someone who gets sick, or someone who tests positive, then you have to do a lot of testing and contact tracing.”

Meanwhile, NPR’s education reporter Anya Kamenetz writes that, “Two new international studies show no consistent relationship between in-person K-12 school and the spread of the corona virus.”

And, adds Kamenetz: “Some medical experts are saying it’s time to shift the discussion from the risks of opening K-12 schools to the risks of keeping them closed.” Among them: learning loss, hunger, child abuse, growing poverty, and missed medical appointments, along with stressed parents juggling work, child care, and home schooling.

Nevertheless, many districts remain shuttered, keeping thousands screen-bound at home for hours on end, including those in San Francisco despite its lowest COVID levels since the pandemic began.

That, though, is just fine with its teachers’ union which insists that conditions are not yet safe, and that “its members do not want to return to classrooms until there is essentially no local transmission.”

Instead of reopening, district administrators want principals in 33% of its schools to brainstorm new school names for those seen as racist, such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

About that said San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed: “While the district was talking about seeking equity by renaming schools, the achievement gap is growing, and there are kids who live in poverty who are falling behind.”

Sort of like when Nero fiddled while Rome burned…

~ With thanks, Carol