In Person School Fall 2020 Farmington Hills
In Person School Fall 2020 Farmington Hills
Dear Farmington School Board,
We, the undersigned parents of Farmington Public Schools schoolchildren, urge you to reject the Administration’s recommendation that our classrooms remain physically closed at the beginning of the fall semester. That recommendation ignores the overwhelming, scientific evidence that reopening schools does not increase the spread of the novel coronavirus among children or adults. The recommendation also disregards the overwhelming evidence that children learn less when schools are physically closed, while being at greater risk of abuse, depression, and suicide.
In urging you to reject the administration’s recommendation, we do not claim to be public-health experts. We claim only the capacity, common to the citizens of our community, to evaluate the recommendation in the light of reason, evidence, and shared communal values. As we will show, such an evaluation reveals that the administration recommendation is defective in three major ways. Any of the three defects would alone justify our rejecting it; the combination of the four compels us to reject it.
1. The Recommendation Ignores the Overwhelming, Uncontroverted Evidence that the Virus Does Not Present a Significant Health Danger to School-age Children
COVID-19 is not an equal-opportunity health threat. It discriminates, strongly, against the elderly. According to the CDC, of the almost 136,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19, over 124,000, or more than 90%, were at least 55 years old. By contrast, only 244, or less than 0.2%, were younger than 25. And, even among the young, most suffered from identifiable comorbidities such as diabetes, obesity or other causes of respiratory difficulty.
Of course, the loss of 244 young people is tragic. But we cannot make intelligent decisions based on such a figure without placing it in the context of other health risks that young people face as part of everyday life. We therefore must take note of the fact that, since February 1, our country has lost almost 28,000 young people (under age 25) to causes other than COVID-19. And 527 of those deaths were caused by pneumonia, which is also an upper respiratory-tract infection. In other words, regular pneumonia is more than twice as deadly as COVID-19 among school-age children. And yet our society has never concluded that the risk posed to the young by pneumonia is great enough to justify sustained school closings. If we did, our schools would never reopen.
We are astonished that the administration’s recommendation makes no mention of the fact that COVID-19 presents only a statistically small danger to school-age children—smaller than the risk from, for example, pneumonia. The administration’s failure even to mention, let alone grapple with, that fact casts serious doubt on the proposition that its recommendation is worthy of our deference.
2. The Recommendation Ignores the Overwhelming Evidence that Reopening Schools is Not Dangerous to Adults.
We know that the new coronavirus does not present a great danger to school-age children, at least as “danger” is normally understood. But what about adults? If we reopen schools to students, will we impose an unreasonable risk on teachers who share classrooms with them, and on parents who share homes with them? Fortunately, there is a vast amount of evidence available to help us answer that question. And the overwhelmingly weight of that evidence says that the answer is no.
Consider Europe. Like most U.S. states, countries across Europe imposed broad lockdowns in March and April. Once, however, European health ministers realized that the new coronavirus presented no elevated health risk to children, 22 European countries promptly reopened their schools. The first was Denmark, which reopened on April 15th; it was quickly followed by France, Germany, and many others. This mass reopening of schools offered a real-world test of the hypothesis that bringing schoolchildren together in classrooms increases the spread of the virus in the community generally. And the results squarely refute this hypothesis. As reported by The Guardian, “the reopening of schools in 22 European countries has not led to any significant increase in coronavirus infections among children, parents, or staff.”
The reason that the reopening of schools does not spread the virus is simple: not only do children tend not to contract the virus, but they also tend not to give it to others. An article from the August 2020 edition of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, summarizes multiple studies on child transmission from Switzerland, Sweden, France, and Australia. The studies all find that children rarely spread the disease to one another or to adults. The article concludes: “Almost 6 months into the pandemic, accumulating evidence and collective experience argue that children, particularly school-aged children, are far less important drivers of SARS-CoV-2 transmission than adults.”
Based on the strength of these multiple studies, the American Academy of Pediatrics has reached the only available conclusion that is based on a rational weighing of the evidence. As it notes on its website: “The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
Remarkably, the administration has made no mention of the European experience, or of the multiple studies relied upon by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Instead, administration has cited only that the virus is on the rise and Michigan is in Phase 4, so we’re still seeing an increase in cases- which is due in large part to an increase in testing. The authors of the South Korean study acknowledged an important limitation, namely that they could not rule out the possibility that household members exposed to a child aged 10 to 19 were actually infected by someone else.
Why would the administration only base their decision to open schools on the number of cases? We can see that 76.1% of parents with students with IEP’s were comfortable and wanted their kids in school. We hesitate to speculate about motives, but we also feel no obligation to defer to a recommendation by administration that has failed even to mention, let alone grapple with, the fact that the most of the real-world evidence and studies contradict the notion that school reopenings pose a meaningful danger to children or adults.
3. The Recommendation Ignores the Overwhelming Evidence that Closing Schools Is More Dangerous for Children than Opening Them
Even if closing schools had health benefits (and, as we note, the available evidence indicates that it does not), such benefits must be weighed against the costs. And those costs are large and unambiguous.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is already evidence of harm to children from the school shutdowns last spring. Time away from school causes social isolation and makes it harder for schools to identify young victims of physical abuse, substance abuse, and depression. The director of the CDC recently told Congress that online learning is associated with an increase in adolescent drug use and suicide. Moreover, there is strong evidence that online learning is less effective than in-person learning, introducing achievement gaps that may be difficult to close later.
As parents of children forced to learn online this spring, such evidence of the deficiencies of remote learning comes as no surprise to us. We have seen that children are less motivated to learn online, since they can more easily get a passing grade without engaging with the class material. And we now have a much greater appreciation of the benefits to students—especially struggling students—of the individualized, face-to-face attention from teachers that occurs only in person.
We do not believe we owe deference to a board that has made no apparent effort to weigh both sides of an issue, or, if it has, to explain how it reached the conclusion that one side outweighs the other.
The citizens of Farmington Hills need to make a decision that makes sense for our own children, based on factors specific to Farmington Hills. Ultimately, the Administration’s recommendation is just that—a recommendation. The citizens and parents of Farmington Hills must decide whether adopting it makes sense for our city and our children. And the answer, clearly, is no.
Parents for In Person Education