School reopening: We can do better

To the Editor:


As one of a two-working-parent household with three young children, I have serious concerns about the current plans to reopen schools this fall. I am also a clinical nurse practitioner at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, and my 7-year-old twins will be in the second grade in the Chilmark School, while my 4-year-old continues preschool. My comments are my own, and do not represent Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

While I have great respect for the school leadership, including the school nurses and board of health members who have responded to the COVID-19 crisis and are working to reopen our schools in a safe and meaningful way, the current plan has no clear metrics or date guiding a full return to in-person learning.

The proposal as it now stands deviates from the recommendations of leading medical professionals and educators. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education share the goal of bringing most students back to in-person learning this fall. 

There is a clear consensus that in-person learning is preferred because it plays a crucial role in students’ social and emotional growth and well-being, critical to both mental and physical health. The AAP has confirmed that children, particularly younger children, are less likely than adults to be infected with COVID-19, and if infected, are less likely to transmit the disease than adults. These positions are based on the opinions of numerous infectious disease physicians, pediatricians, and other public health experts across the commonwealth, and they are backed by scientific evidence.

At first glance, a hybrid model appears to be a prudent compromise, but it may actually cause more harm than good. Working parents with young children will likely require alternate childcare on their children’s remote days, exposing our children to larger groups of people and creating more opportunities for viral spread.

Facts are important. Cases of COVID-19 here continue to be rare even during this busy summer season. The current percent-positive rate for the general population is 0.51 percent. Camps and childcare centers reopened under strict guidance in July, and some even earlier, yet there is no significant uptick of cases.

I can empathize with the concerns of our teachers, staff, and school nurses. Many of them may have underlying health conditions, or may live with someone at high risk. However, if we continue to see a low infection rate in early September, I strongly believe that we should return to in-person learning, beginning with the youngest children and those with special needs. Older children are more capable of remote learning, and less likely to require supervision.

Despite the tremendous efforts by our teachers, remote learning is simply ineffective for younger children, and if it’s the only option, I’d prefer to opt out my children. I have sat with two 6-year-olds at a computer, constantly redirecting or bargaining with them to finish just one more worksheet before they need a break, all the while trying work from home myself. I can’t emphasize this more strongly — remote learning does not work for young children. And for most working parents, given our high cost of living, it’s a financial hardship to require them to stay at home to supervise, or hire alternate childcare.

As leading medical professional and educators have emphasized, we must make policies based on evidence, not fear. Education is essential, and public schools should be one of the first components of our society to reopen, not the last.

I have faith that with collaboration, ingenuity, and implementation of evidence-based guidelines, we can work together for the sake of our children and return to in-person learning in September.

The present proposal, with no clear metrics to arrive at a set-return date, is a disservice to our children and the future of our community. We can do better. 

 

Elizabeth A. Moriarty

Chilmark