Public schools across Wisconsin should open as soon as safely possible this fall. And the top priority should be doing what’s best for our kids.
Significantly, the American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
Science is on the side of bringing students back to school buildings, despite the pandemic. That’s because “schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being,” according to the AAP. “The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures.”
That includes social isolation, abuse, depression and hunger.
Unfortunately, the Madison School District announced Friday it will offer online classes only this fall — despite six or seven weeks to go before the fall semester begins. By then, a lot could change with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Dane County recently and wisely implemented a mask requirement for inside buildings that aren’t people’s homes. That should help ease the spread of COVID-19, making it safer for in-person classes.
The AAP recently stressed that “the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting” from COVID-19. They also appear less likely to contract and spread the infection.
The Madison teachers union last week demanded online classes only until Dane County goes at least 14 straight days without new COVID-19 cases. That might be best for older teachers with underlying health conditions making them more susceptible to the pandemic. But it’s definitely not best for our children. The district should reject such a rigid standard that fails to consider the needs of our broader community.
Lower-income students, who are disproportionately of color, are less likely to succeed with online schooling if they have fewer resources at home — and if their parents can’t work remotely because of front-line jobs.
The Madison School Board should have waited to see how COVID-19 plays out this summer. That’s what other school districts, such as Chicago, are doing. It’s possible the plan that Madison schools outlined to parents recently could have worked in September. That called for half of students to attend two days of in-person classes each week, with the other half of students attending two different days.
Instead, the Madison district announced Friday — just a day after the teachers union made its unrealistic demand — that all classes will be virtual for at least the first quarter.
To help protect students and teachers who return to school, the AAP urges face masks for older students, social distancing and other precautions. Adult staff in high-risk categories for COVID-19 should be granted reasonable accommodations.
But school districts across Wisconsin should lean toward opening their buildings. Public Health Madison and Dane County’s current health orders, which are stricter than most of the state, allow schools to open for in-person classes. Nordic countries in Europe successfully opened their schools months ago — or never closed — and haven’t experienced widespread outbreaks.
Madison’s online-only plans shouldn’t become the model for the rest of the state.