The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Students have already lost too much time. They need to be back in classrooms.

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SINCE THE outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, teachers, principals, administrators and parents across the United States have worked mightily to help students keep learning. Schools developed new curriculums, provided children with portable computers and labored to give some semblance of structure to remote learning. Parents took on larger, unaccustomed roles, troubleshooting tech problems, helping their children understand what was being taught and calming them when they struggled.

Even with these efforts, remote learning has failed to provide anything approaching the quality of education that can be delivered by a teacher in a classroom. Evidence of the failures, particularly for children already at risk, is matched by growing evidence of the relative safety of in-person learning when proper precautions are in place. The combination should spur officials to devise plans to get students back in the classroom.

“Close the bars and keep the schools open,” Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC last Sunday. In too many places, officials have pushed the reverse. Dr. Fauci was not advocating a wholesale, one-size-fits-all approach for the country to reopen schools but instead stressed the need to take into account local health conditions and capabilities. Dr. Fauci was initially more cautious about what schools should do in the face of an unprecedented public health crisis, but his thinking has appropriately evolved as more has become known about the virus. Schools have not been a major source of covid-19 spread; European countries — as well as states such as Rhode Island and private and public charter schools — have brought children and staff safely back into the classroom with strict safety protocols including wearing masks, social distancing and proper ventilation.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

Also clear are the pernicious effects — academically, socially and mentally — of keeping children out of schools. Fairfax County, one of the nation’s largest (and wealthiest) school districts, issued a report showing how online learning has caused a drop in academic performance. Those who have been hurt the most are children with disabilities and English-language learners. Data from Montgomery County schools leads to the same stark conclusion. Superintendents across the country have sounded the alarm about failing grades, elementary school children struggling with being in front of a screen all day, and teachers, parents and grandparents stretched to the limit.

We recently asked a top official in a Washington-area jurisdiction, who insisted on anonymity, why there wasn’t more of a push to figure out ways to return children to the classroom. The answer was that there is no political pressure. Parents of means can give their children the help and resources they need or switch them to a private school; parents of minority or disadvantaged students with the most to lose have the least clout. Vaccines are on the horizon, but students already have lost too much time. Dr. Fauci is right: “Close the bars and keep the schools open.”

Read more:

Read a letter in response to this editorial: Close the bars — and the schools

Helaine Olen: It’s time to admit it: Remote education is a failure

Leana S. Wen: Most schools should close and stay closed through winter

Danielle Allen and Ashish Jha: We’ve figured out it’s safe to have schools open. Keep them that way.

Joseph G. Allen and Sara Bleich: Why three feet of social distancing should be enough in schools

Robert Gebelhoff: Anthony Fauci owes no one an apology

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