After a year of isolation, depression, distancing, and studying from home, it is finally time for schools to reopen. As COVID-19 distanced society, schools all over the states were forced to close. Since the pandemic started in March 2020, AP News reported that 6.1 million California students from K-12 have studied remotely. As the number of confirmed cases continues to decrease, it’s planned for schools to reopen in mid-March and early April.
The reopening of schools is not only necessary but required for students to receive the standard quality of education. Though remote learning reduced the chance of spread of the virus, it also reduced educational achievement. Due to the lack of materials, space, and guidance, classes that required in-person instruction such as scientific experiments and physical education were left out.
Luckily, a $6.6 billion aid package was distributed to accelerate the progress of reopening schools on Monday, March 1st. Out of the $6.6 billion, $2 billion will be partitioned to local education agencies to purchase personal protective equipment, ventilation upgrades, COVID-19 testing equipment, and other safety measurements. And the remaining $4.6 billion would fund expanded learning opportunities, such as summer school, tutoring, and mental health services. Along with the K-12 School Public Health Guidance issued by the CDC, students will be returning to school in-person with the campus fully cleaned, equipped, and safe.
The decision of reopening schools is supported by the parents, students, and the government.
“Since the height of the winter surge, we have successfully shifted the conversation from whether to reopen schools to when,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “Now, our collective charge is to build on that momentum and local leadership, and – just as critically – do whatever it takes to meet the mental health and academic needs of our students, including over the summer.”
Despite the parents’ and students’ eagerness for in-person learning, a group of teachers was concerned about their health. In February, the school district of San Francisco was sued by its city for having no meaningful plan for reopening.
“It is unlikely that we’ll be able to offer most middle and high school students the opportunity for in-person learning this school year,” the San Francisco District and the Board of Education declared.
Understanding the risk of cross-contamination and the worries teachers have, the package codified Governor Newsom’s commitment to set aside 10% of vaccines for education workers.
“It must be done, and it must be done much sooner than the current path we are on. And we believe this will advance that cause,” Governor Newsom said on February 19th, as he announced the plan at an Oakland vaccination site, ensuring the safety of teachers.
As some Californians were enthusiastic about reopening school, others were debating about the timing and the possibility of another surge in positive cases. In fact, medical research teams had already proven the relatively low risk of in-person school.
A study performed by Duke University tested the frequency of within-school transmission of COVID-19 with in-person instruction in communities. They examined 11 school districts in North Carolina, with nearly 100,000 students and staff open for 9 weeks of in-person instruction, tracking the secondary transmission of COVID-19.
“Across the 11 school districts, 773 community-acquired SARS-CoV-2 infections were documented by molecular testing; however, there were only 32 adjudicated cases of secondary transmission,” the study reported. “Six districts had 0 secondary infections, 2 had 1 case, and 3 had multiple cases. There were 6 cases of secondary transmission in the pre-K setting; 11 in elementary schools, 6 in middle schools, 5 in high schools, and 4 in K–12 schools. There were no cases of child-to-adult within-school transmission.”
Researchers pointed out that masking, physical distancing, and hand hygiene, are efficient in mitigate secondary transmission and minimize the clusters of infection in schools.
“Our data indicate that schools can reopen safely if they develop and adhere to specific SARS-CoV-2 prevention policies,” the researchers added.
Another study from the “New England Journal of Medicine” detailed the confirmed cases of COVID-19 from students in schools in Sweden, from Mar 1st to Jun 30th, 2020.
According to their data, out of all children from the exclaimed schools, 15 were infected from March to June 2020 (0.77 per 100,000 children). 4 out of 15 children were 1 to 6 years old (0.54 per 100,000), and 11 were 7 to 16 (0.90 per 100,000). The researchers also revealed that 4 of the children had an underlying illness: 2 with cancer, 1 with chronic kidney disease, and 1 with hematologic disease.
“Despite Sweden’s having kept schools and preschools open, we found a low incidence of severe Covid-19 among schoolchildren and children of preschool age during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.
The absence of social communication also brought more negative impacts on students. Without being physically on campus, online learning had cut the support from schools to students, such as the Health Center and Counseling Office. Since online learning requires more attention and longer time on screen, students lost connection with friends and family. Moreover, even though 87% of the families have a subscription to the internet, not every family has enough computers or devices for children to learn online. Therefore, considering the mental and physical health of the students, schools have to and are safe to reopen.
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