School districts throughout Massachusetts are currently determining whether to open with in-person classes five-days a week or not.
Gov. Charlie Baker and Education Commissioner Riley are rightfully advocating for fully in-person. Keeping schools closed lacks any basis in science or reason and does nothing but continue the trauma and suffering of the commonwealth’s youth for no good reason.
Undisputed COVID-19 data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and national Centers for Disease Control dashboards show that not one person below the age of 20 in Massachusetts has died and less than 45 people below the age of 15 nationwide (in a nation of 329 million people) have died of COVID-19.
At the same time, since Feb. 1 over 215 people nationwide below the age of 15 died of pneumonia and over 105 died of influenza. School-aged children are perfectly safe in school. Indeed, a person below the age of 20 should be more worried about being struck by lightning at recess than COVID-19.
The CDC announced in its July 23 statement advising schools open with in-person classes that “the best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children… At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant.”
Yet teachers’ union leadership knowingly ignores this clear data and demands schools stay closed. Massachusetts Teachers Association president Merrie Najimy very recently pronounced: “Let me just be very blunt. The benefits of returning in person are limited and the risks are as great as the possibility of either causing a resurgence in the pandemic and putting people’s lives in jeopardy.”
Not surprisingly Najimy and the MTA failed to provide any support for these assertions. The MTA disturbingly proceeded to urge its more than 350 local affiliates to refuse to return to school buildings, without mentioning, of course, any cut in salary for teachers.
Presumably, since school-aged children face nearly zero risk from COVID-19, the MTA must be worried about teachers becoming seriously ill or dying. But, once again, facts matter. The data shows such fears are utterly without foundation.
In actuality, the CDC’s July 23 statement declared that “based on current data, the rate of infection among younger school children, and from students to teachers, has been low, especially if proper precautions are followed. There have also been few reports of children being the primary source of COVID-19 transmission among family members. This is consistent with data from both virus and antibody testing, suggesting that children are not the primary drivers of COVID-19 spread in schools or in the community.”
Even if children did spread the virus, a teacher has little chance of getting seriously ill, never mind dying from it. Less than 145 people below the age of 50 have died in Massachusetts from Covid-19 with the average age of a teacher in Massachusetts being 42.4. The average age of death is 82 with nearly all having pre-existing co-morbidity conditions.
Determined and forceful leadership is now required.
The governor and commissioner need to draw a line in the sand and order the schools open fully with in-person classes no later than Oct. 15. If they will not, families and tax payers should demand an answer to the questions of if the schools will not open now, then when? What data could possibly be better than the current data? A generation of students, particularly the economically disadvantaged, are being lost for no good reason and the time to fight for kids is now.
James P. Ehrhard is a writer whose columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Herald, Worcester Telegram, Springfield Republican and other publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.