Based on the analysis of 130 studies on school reopening, including studies focused on the physical, academic, and emotional toll school closures have had on students, schools can safely reopen now, if they follow mitigation strategies like mask wearing and social distancing, according to a new report.
The report, Is it Safe to Reopen Schools? An Extensive Review of the Research, was written by education and policy expert John Bailey, and co-sponsored by United States of Care, Opportunity Labs, the Evidence Project at the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), COVID Collaborative, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Walton Family Foundation.
The report also covers the findings around the risk of children contracting Covid-19 in school, the possibility of community spread, academic losses and the more severe impact that’s having on communities of color.
One year ago tomorrow, Ohio became the first state to announce it would close all public schools due to growing concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus. One year later, many school districts are still doing full remote learning as the debate over safely reopening continues.
“It seems like it was easier to close schools than it was to figure out when and how they should reopen,” said Bailey at a virtual news conference Thursday. “We are a year into this, and we still have schools that are closed, and some that are trying to figure out how to reopen.”
The report also examines how reopening schools has been tied to the potential strain on hospitals and health systems.
“Our ability to reopen schools is directly related to what the health system capacity is,” said Dr. Mario Ramirez, an emergency physician who worked with the Obama administration during the Ebola outbreak.
“As the case counts have come down, and as our health system capacity has increased, and we’ve actually instituted a lot of these protective health measures, I do think we can open schools,” Ramirez said.
Part of the debate that has recently emerged is regarding social distancing, and whether schools should space kids six feet apart as the CDC recommends, or whether three feet of distance is sufficient. For many school districts, this difference will be a key component for reopening, as most don’t have space for six feet of distancing with all their students present.
According to Bailey, school districts in Indiana, Virginia, and Massachusetts have all adopted a three foot standard instead of six feet.
Those states “have not seen a surge of cases that you would expect if somehow that protection was less adequate,” Bailey said.