Schools can safely reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic — and must do so quickly to curb further harm to children, according to an extensive new report that will be presented to members of Congress on Friday.
The report, written by John P. Bailey, a former deputy policy director at the Department of Commerce, examined more than 130 studies on reopening schools and concluded that that the longer they are closed, the greater kids suffer.
“The kids that have been out of school the longest have the most urgent need of getting back in the classroom,” Bailey told Axios, which received an advance copy of the report on Thursday.
“There’s also a group of students for whom remote learning has been a struggle — and they’re falling behind. That is a group of students that should be prioritized for in person instruction as well.”
Those risks include academic loss that could set kids back for life, as well as mental health problems concerning loneliness and isolation, according to the report, commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation, American Enterprise Institute and five other nonprofits.
Some school districts across the country — including in New York City — have seen a disturbing trend of student suicides as the global health crisis continues to play out.
The report also noted the hardship parents have faced over closed schools, saying two million mothers have quit their jobs to deal with remote learning and childcare.
It concludes that schools can safely reopen to students and teachers so long as protocols such as hand washing, social distancing and proper ventilation are in place.
“Schools are not super-spreaders,” Bailey writes in the report, which will be presented to the House Committee on Education and Labor on Friday.
A study by the Chicago Department of Public Health, which is underscored in the report, found a lower COVID-19 infection rate in Chicago Archdiocese schools compared to Chicago Public Schools.
Archdiocese schools reopened in the fall — with requirements in place including masking, social distancing and daily symptom and temperature checks — while the public school system has remained closed for a year.
“The estimated COVID attack rate among students at Archdiocese schools was 0.2% — significantly lower than the 0.4% rate for all Chicago children,” Bailey said.
Test scores also showed that Archdiocese students made academic gains, while public school students likely lagged.
Axios reported that the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers are also being briefed on the new report.
The findings back guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month that schools can safely reopen under a phased system.