Reopen Washington Schools Safely

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Governor Inslee, Superintendent Reykdal, and the Washington Board of Education,

When you decided to close our schools in March, we appreciated the caution on behalf of our communities. However, the phased plan to reopen our state is leaving our children behind.

★ Schools Are An Essential Service ★ 

Schools are safe places for students to grow cognitively, emotionally, and socially. Schools provide safe spaces for physical activity—60 minutes a day is recommended by the CDC to decrease the risk of numerous diseases. Schools also enable teachers to offer tailored support and do their best work via in-person education.

Schools must be reopened in fall 2020 with the option for 100% in-person learning. Safety precautions can be taken like handwashing and temperature checks. Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be given to teachers and staff for free. However, students should be allowed to attend without masks, if requested.

There are many reasons why schools must be reopened—at least one for every student in our state. Here are several supported by public health data.

★ Top 5 Reasons to Reopen Schools ★ 

  1. Children are low risk. Children are less likely to get COVID-19 or get seriously ill. If they do, the pediatric mortality rate is 0.1% which is similar to the flu. According to CDC data, more school-aged children have died from the flu than COVID-19 in the U.S. (1-2) Recent reports about a rare inflammatory syndrome related to COVID-19 show it is treatable when diagnosed.
  2. Teachers have low risk from students. Multiple studies around the world indicate that there is minimal risk of child-to-adult transmission of COVID-19. (3-8) The risk of infection for adults is from other adults. Teachers can avoid this risk by staying primarily in their own classrooms. Staff meetings can be online or in outdoor spaces.
  3. Remote learning is insufficient. More screen time leads to lower scores. In a study by the National Institute of Health, kids who spend more than two hours a day on screens got lower scores on thinking and language tests. Children were found to have a premature thinning of the cortex, the outermost layer of the brain that processes information from the five senses. That’s why Steve Jobs was a low-tech parent who limited screen time for his kids.
  4. School provides a safe place for students. Reports to Seattle police of domestic violence increased 21% between Feb. 29 and March 31. Meanwhile, reports of child abuse are down close to 50% across Washington, an alarming drop indicating that victims are suffering in silence. "Without school, kids have no way to tell a teacher, counselor or other adult outside the house,” said Ben Santos, Chair of the Special Assault Unit in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. 
  5. Working parents rely on schools for child care. Many are unable to work from home or afford alternative care for their children. In SPS, the largest district with 55,000 students, 32% of families are low-income and 4% are homeless. Working parents need schools to reopen to stay employed or return to the workforce. No families should be left behind as we rebuild our economy.

All of our students deserve equal access to quality education. According to Dr. Dimitri Christakis, one of our nation's most prominent pediatricians, the benefits outweigh the risks of students returning to school. He recommends we should start with the expectation that students do return, then determine how to make that happen safely. "If we declared the meat supply a national emergency, we should do the same with the brain supply."

Please reopen our schools with a full-time in-person option. The health benefits are far greater than the risks.

Thank you,
Washington students, families, and supporters

★ References ★

National Institute of Health
“One interesting feature of this novel coronavirus pandemic is that very few children have become sick with COVID-19 compared to adults,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

(1) C.D.C.: Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report
Flu: 68 deaths for children ages 5-11 in the U.S. (6/6/2020).

(2) C.D.C.: Provisional COVID-19 Death Counts by Sex, Age, and State
COVID-19: 26 deaths for children ages 5 - 14 in the U.S. (6/10/2020)

WIRED: The Case to Reopen Schools
(3) Australia’s National Center for Immunization Research and Surveillance conducted a study of 18 coronavirus cases in 15 schools. Among the 735 students and 128 staff members in close contact with the 18 individuals, only 2 children became infected and “no teacher or staff member contracted COVID-19.” This study was in March and April, prior to any new sanitation or distancing requirements.
(4) National Institute for Public Health for the Netherlands reported “no indications that children younger than 12 years were the first to be infected within the family...The virus is mainly spread between adults and from adult family members to children.”
(5) British Columbia Center for Disease Control and Ministry of Health report: “There is no documented evidence of child-to-adult transmission. There are no documented cases of children bringing an infection into the home, from school or otherwise.”

(6)  COVID-19 transmission and children: the child is not to blame. Lee B, Raszka Jr WV. Pediatrics (2020).

(7) Children are unlikely to be the main drivers of the COVID‐19 pandemic – a systematic review. Ludvigsson, JF. Acta Paediatr.

(8) Children are not COVID-19 super spreaders: time to go back to school. Munro APS, Faust SN. Archives of Disease in Childhood.  05 May 2020.

John Hopkins University: An Ethics Framework for the COVID-19 Reopening Process
"The burdens of social distancing accrue significantly on younger people. We have already noted the significant risk and harms to children that school closures impose...with poor children and children of color suffering the most serious and long-lasting setbacks."
"School closures undoubtedly threaten the well-being of children. Reopening schools, holding summer school, and allowing summer camps to be held would offer obvious benefits to children—and some policymakers have endorsed some of these proposals."