Virginia's schools should reopen for 2020-21

Virginia's schools should reopen for 2020-21

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We, the undersigned, represent health care professionals and concerned Virginian citizens who support the reopening of Virginia’s schools for the 2020-2021 school year.  

Ongoing school closures are detrimental to the health and well being of children. 

COVID-19 caught the country unprepared, prompting shutdowns across all sectors in order to give us time to prepare and gather data.  Schools did not close because Virginia was overwhelmed with disease, but to protect us when we faced the unknown and wished “to flatten the curve.” However, we now have more information that supports school opening.

Virginia health systems are ready.  Hospitals are operating at significant losses due to low levels of utilization. Protocols for testing and safety are in place and we are far better prepared than we were when schools were originally closed.

Kids are low-risk and keeping schools closed has not been shown to save lives. Data around the world shows that this virus is less deadly than influenza to children, and it is unlikely that pediatric centers will ever be overrun.  Furthermore, multiple studies indicate that kids are rarely the ones who spread the virus.  Children should not be forced to bear the burden of quarantine when it does not benefit them or society as a whole.  

Online instruction cannot replace classroom experiences. Even the best classes via virtual platforms cannot develop social skills and grow friendships. Children already suffer from too much screen time.  Sports and afterschool activities alleviate depression and anxiety, and we can preserve the safety of higher-risk adults while kids participate. Children learn academics and social skills best in regular classroom activities.

School closures exacerbate already existing inequities. Children with socioeconomic disadvantages suffer disproportionately during remote learning: some schools or homes do not have computers or adequate resources for learning. Schools provide meals and safe spaces to at-risk children.  Many children with special needs-- such as autism-- cannot receive analogous services at home.  

Many parents and guardians cannot work and homeschool. Schools offer safe, steady child care. Few schools or families can realistically support a model of “alternate days” or small class sizes, which are changes that disrupt learning and are unlikely to meaningfully decrease infection spread. Guardians who must work cannot manage which child is at home at which time, as many older children care for younger siblings. 

Safety modifications can be made while having a full return for the majority of students. Children who are deemed high-risk or who reside with high-risk individuals may need “homebound instruction” or modified school schedules. Staff should be given the proper protective equipment and options for alternative work environments. We know this will be challenging but it is not insurmountable.

We stand ready to assist with decisions and be advocates for children in Virginia. While acknowledging the gravity of the pandemic, we must not allow children to continue to suffer needlessly by the closure of schools, which does not significantly protect them or the Commonwealth. 

We ask Governor Northam to open Virginia schools for the 2020-2021 school year, allowing localities to close as needed, working with local physicians and school districts to support the health of staff and students and the community.  



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