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  • Writer's pictureEmily Duke Hargan

To School or Not to School

This time last year, I was reminding my boys to wrap up their summer reading and school journaling. Both of them had grown out of all their school uniform shirts and pants, and I had to re-order everything before the first day of school. New shoes, socks, belts had to be bought as well as all the school supplies including the $150 graphing calculator. There were the sports physicals, haircuts and dentist appointments and last minute deliveries from Amazon.

But this fall is filled with a lot of uncertainty, and my boys haven't gotten haircuts in months. Here in the DC metro area, as with many school systems around the countries, public school have announced that they will not be open to in-person school this fall. Over the last few weeks, re-opening school has been a contentious debate as parents, teachers, local lawmakers, and federal officials weigh in on the risks of opening school safely in the fall.

On the Bourbon and Politics Twitter Poll this past week, we asked our followers how they felt about schools re-opening, and overwhelmingly the answer was yes (83% yes to 17% no). Our Instagram poll was even more clear with a 100% saying yes to re-opening schools. I even received a message from one of our Facebook followers who remarked, “I’m a teacher, and I think we NEED to open schools…there is a lot at stake—mental health, single parents, dual working parents having to choose between their jobs and leaving their kids home alone, further disparities between those with access to e-learning and those without. Teachers need to recognize that they are now “essential workers”.”

I know that the answer to getting kids back to school is not as simple as a Twitter poll, so let’s take a look at what some of the experts are saying about re-opening schools:

Dr. Robert Redfield, Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institutes of Health

Dr. Tom Inglesby, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

On July 23, the Center for Disease Control issued this report on the importance of reopening school this fall. Citing that, “Aside from a child’s home, no other setting has more influence on a child’s health and well-being than their school.” It further outlines that an in-person school environment provides educational instruction but supports the development of social and emotional skills; provides a safe environment for learning; addresses nutritional needs; and supports a physically activity.

The CDC, as well as this recently released paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics, also emphasizes that closed schools cause significant harm to the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children.   Further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities. These students are far less likely to have access to private instruction and care and rely on school-supported resources like food programs, special education services, counseling, and after-school programs to meet basic developmental needs.

The experts above agree that getting schools re-opened should be a priority, and that we need to re-open safely—but what about the risk posed by COVID-19?

Let's look at some of the stats...

The risk of dying of COVID-19 is impossible to answer. However, what we do know is that death from COVID-19 disproportionately affects the elderly. Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control, those older than 85 are more than 300 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those aged 25–34; those under 15, by contrast, are about 30 times less likely to die of the disease than those aged 25–34. Additionally, The CDC has recorded a total of 20 COVID-19 deaths in children ages 5-14 compared to almost 2,000 deaths from non-COVID causes in the same time period for the same age group.  It means children have been 100 times more likely to die from non-COVID causes during the pandemic than from COVID.

The data can be overwhelming and these past few months have taken a toll on all of us. So go easy on yourself. There isn't a one-size fits all solution here. I recommend talking together as a family about how schools are re-opening in your community and how your kids are feeling. My boys go to two different schools that have different re-opening plans—and with two working parents, they'll have to help us figure out how we are going to make going back to school work in the fall.

Continue to educate yourself about what is going on in your community and what resources are available. CDC recently published a school decision-making tool designed to help parents, caregivers, and guardians weigh the risks and benefits of available educational options to help them make decisions about sending their child back to school. I highly recommend reviewing it and sharing it with family and friends. Parents play the most important role in guiding their children's educational, emotional and physical well-being. Before they return to school, make sure you and your child are prepared and if you don't feel comfortable and need answers—get them!

Let us know how your back-to-school experience goes whether you are doing it from your kitchen table or back in the classroom. We wish you all good luck!

Hargan Boys' School Memories

Still looking for some summer reading? Check out our list of 10 Books that Shaped America.

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