Are Children a Priority in the Pandemic?

The term “Pandemic” has come to mean the virus, the disease it causes, as well as the human response to its spread, linked together. Under this umbrella term, policy makers clear their consciences of the collateral damage that results from their decisions, including school closings. The negative effects of school closings on children can be blamed on a non-thinking, non-decision-making virus.  However, the consequences of these decisions could create broad and long-lasting harm to our children.

The fact is that there are choices.  Whether or not school closures were warranted, or continue to be, should not be taken as self-evident.  The cost of our response in attempting to mitigate the virus must be addressed:

  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACES) including family violence, non-accidental trauma, and mental illness are on the rise as a result of school closings and recession.
    • Unintentional injuries in children have doubled in 2020, and continue to be the leading cause of death in children in the U.S.
    • Children affected by domestic abuse are unable to escape their situation during the day. Although their condition continues to worsen, the abuse is not being discovered because school staff are mandatory reporters.  The majority of calls to Child Protective Services come from schools.
  • Food Insecurity is increasing. Parents are having more difficulty accessing school lunch
    • In this country, more than two-thirds of the 31 million students who regularly eat school lunch are economically dependent on those meals.
    • Risk factors for weight gain in children have been exacerbated, the long-term effects of which will reduce quality years of life.
  • The Disparity between the Haves and Have Nots is expanding.
    • Not all families have reliable access to Wi-Fi, which impacts an already adversely truncated learning experience being dealt to children stuck in their homes.
    • American schools’ summer break is estimated to contribute to a loss in academic achievement equivalent to one month of education for children with low socioeconomic status. There is also a notable increase in mental health and well-being of children in low-income households over summer and holiday breaks. Many of these students have not had consistent schooling since March 2020.
    • The “Covid-19 Slide” projections suggest major academic impacts from COVID closures for students, especially in mathematics.

The effect of this education gap will be a long-lasting legacy of the decisions made to mitigate the more immediate threat of the virus.

Keeping Schools Open

CDC Director Robert Redfield stated in November at a White House coronavirus task force briefing that schools should remain open during the pandemic. “Today, there is extensive data that we have gathered over the last two to three months to confirm that k-12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning and they can do it safely and they can do it responsibly,” Redfield said. “The infections we have identified in the schools, when they have been evaluating, were not acquired in schools. They were acquired in the community and the household.” The CDC’s data did not find a link between a rise in cases and schools reopening in the fall.

The virus cannot lock a door.  Humans must do that.  Perhaps the calculus favors school closings.  But that calculus must be shown, not assumed.  And it must be balanced, because these decisions may be adversely impacting an entire generation.

 

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