Although the majority of parents in America are concerned about their children falling behind due to the closure of schools over COVID-19, the split over whether or not to open schools is purely a partisan choice. According to market research and public opinion group Ipsos, 78 percent of Democrats oppose re-opening schools while 79 percent of Republicans support the decision.
Schools have been closed nationwide since the coronavirus outbreak began in the United States in early to mid-March. Since then, scientific research has largely reached a consensus regarding the safety for school-aged children, encompassing all parts of the COVID-19 threat including their risks of development and rates of transmission.
According to the Foundation for Research of Equal Opportunity, maintaining the closure of schools poses expansive threats to the mental, emotional, and physical health of children and their family than the reopening schools could.
“While the risks of COVID-19 in children are low and manageable, the harms of prolonged school closures are high. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ‘The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020,’” the report says.
The science also points to children being at very low risk of hospitalization or death from the novel coronavirus.
“The Center for Disease Control’s most recent report shows 12 pediatric COVID deaths total, compared to 174 pediatric flu deaths this season. In the 2018-2019 flu season there were 400 pediatric deaths, and the 2009 swine flu pandemic killed 2,000 children,” writes Phil Kerpen in The Federalist.
Despite the strong scientific support for sending children back to school next month, democrats still advocate for keeping schools closed and continuing alternate forms of learning.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been pushing back on school openings since early July, when she said, “We don’t want our children to take risks to go to school.”
Democratic governors, including the governor of the state with the highest number of COVID-19 deaths, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, are hesitant in opening schools. Cuomo claims his likely pending decision to remain closed is “data-driven.”
“Everybody wants to reopen schools, but you only reopen if it’s safe to reopen, and that’s determined by the data,” Cuomo said. “You don’t hold your finger up and feel the wind, you don’t have an inspiration, you don’t have a dream, you don’t have an emotion–look at the data. We test more and we have more data than any state. If you have the virus under control, reopen. If you don’t have the virus under control, then you can’t reopen.”
Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, are pushing for schools to go back to teaching in-person. The next COVID-19 relief package, proposed by a Senate Republican, will include $70 billion for K-12 education, half of which is for schools that reopen in-person. It leaves only $5 billion for governors’ discretionary education spending. The education spending accounts for just a small percentage of the $1 trillion total package that is set for negotiations with democrats this upcoming week.
President Donald Trump has also expressed strong support for reopening schools this fall. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the president faces resistance from local leaders, many of whom are Democrats.
“President Trump has repeatedly said he wants schools to reopen fully and that keeping them physically closed hurts the economy and working parents. But some state and local leaders have already postponed school start dates and delayed in-person learning, saying it is too dangerous to have children back on campus where infections could spread,” the article reads.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, however, recommends leaving the decision at the discretion of localities. Trump accused Biden of taking a meager stance for political reason, and thereby putting the health of students second.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany quoted Dr. Scott Atlas in a press briefing, who says the argument to keep schools closed is non-existent when looking at the science. Atlas is a member of Hoover’s Working Group on Health Care Policy and the former head of neuroradiology at Stanford Medical School.
“Of course we can do it. Everyone else in the Western world, our peer nations, are doing it. We are the outlier here,” she said. “The science is very clear on this… The risk of critical illness from COVID is far less for children than that of seasonal flu. The science is on our side here. We encourage for localities and states to just simply follow the science. Open our schools. It’s very damaging to our children.”
Despite the overwhelming scientific support, the public debate over opening schools in America remains a partisan issue.