Fully Reopening Elementary Schools Should Be Made ‘Top National Priority,’ Experts Say

July 31, 2020 Updated: July 31, 2020

Amid the debate over reopening the nation’s schools, a group of education and health experts argued that it is both essential and feasible to allow young children, particularly elementary school students, to physically return to classrooms in fall.

In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday, Harvard University’s education professor Meira Levinson, along with infectious diseases scientist Muge Cevik and epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, wrote that safely reopening schools full-time for all elementary-school-age children should be made “a top national priority.”

“Children’s well-being depends on their being in a setting that is designed for their care, their active and engaged learning, and their healthy development,” said Levinson in an interview with Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Young children cannot engage for long periods of time with remote teachers and peers; they need in-person support from a trusted adult.”

Levinson also pointed out that keeping schools closed is especially harmful to those already disadvantaged children, including children living in poverty, children of color, English language learners, and children with diagnosed disabilities.

Speaking of schools that offer a mix of online and in-person learning, Levinson argued that while some in-person schooling is better than none, such so-called “hybrid model” still fails to solve the important child-care issue, since children will still have to spend several days a week at home, preventing parents—particularly women—to fully reenter the workforce.

“These challenges may be particularly acute for educators who are parents themselves, for other workers who lack flexibility in determining when or where they work, and for parents with multiple children on misaligned attendance schedules,” she stated in the article.

Children under the age of 10 are less likely to be infected with or transmit the CCP virus than adults and older adolescents, the experts noted, citing recent medical findings based on limited evidence. These findings, however, do seem to align with data on school and community transmission from countries where elementary schools have been reopened or remained open, including France, Israel, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.

Still, the experts suggested that in order to reopen elementary schools safely, communities should try to keep the virus transmission rate at a low as they could.

“Any region experiencing moderate, high, or increasing levels of community transmission should do everything possible to lower transmission,” they wrote. “Such measures along with universal mask wearing must be implemented now in the United States if we are to bring case numbers down to safe levels for elementary schools to reopen this fall nationwide.”