Saying that “COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children” while continued lockouts of school buildings cause “significant” harm to children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a guidance document Thursday supporting the reopening of America’s school buildings.
A companion guidance document provided tips for schools on how to reopen amid the challenges posed by COVID-19 and stated: “While opening schools — like opening any building or facility — does pose a risk for the spread of COVID-19, there are many reasons why opening schools in the fall of 2020 for in-person instruction is important.”
The CDC did not downplay the fact that a pandemic is occurring, but said the balance of all evidence is that closing schools does more harm than good.
“Parents are understandably concerned about the safety of their children at school in the wake of COVID-19,” the first guidance document said. “The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms. Death rates among school-aged children are much lower than among adults.
“At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant.”
The document indicated that students with the greatest barriers to success are those who need school buildings open the most.
“Further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities,” the CDC said. “These students are far less likely to have access to private instruction and care and far more likely to rely on key school-supported resources like food programs, special education services, counseling, and after-school programs to meet basic developmental needs.”
“Extended school closure is harmful to children. It can lead to severe learning loss, and the need for in-person instruction is particularly important for students with heightened behavioral needs. Following the wave of school closures in March 2020 due to COVID-19, academic learning slowed for most children and stopped for some.”
The CDC noted that a survey of 477 school districts by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington showed that “far too many schools are leaving learning to chance” and said only a third of school districts in the study “expected teachers to provide instruction, track student engagement, or monitor academic progress for all students.”
“A study by researchers at Brown and Harvard Universities assessed how 800,000 students used Zearn, an online math program, both before and after schools closed in March 2020,” the guidance added. “Data showed that through late April, student progress in math decreased by about half, with the negative impact more pronounced in low-income zip codes.”
The CDC rejected the concept that reopening schools will result in a mass spread of coronavirus infections.
“The best available evidence from countries that have opened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children, at least in areas with low community transmission, and suggests that children are unlikely to be major drivers of the spread of the virus,” the CDC said.
The CDC guidance is in line with a groundswell of voices calling for schools to reopen:
"Our strategy to safely reopen schools mirrors our approach nationwide."
Shelter those at highest risk, and allow those at lower risk to resume work and school with vigilant hygiene and social distancing. pic.twitter.com/J7v3DXc8FB
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) July 23, 2020