“the president of San Francisco’s school board thinks schools should be renamed even if the renaming committee erred in its thinking, and the vice president of the school board thinks merit is a racist concept and any attempt to measure merit represents the antithesis of justice. Are these schools in good hands? Would any parent willingly trust the members of this board to tutor their children, let alone plan the entire educational experience of thousands of kids?”
“Educators’ anxiety is based on reasonable concerns. Covid-19 is a serious illness. And schools are an indoor group setting with the potential to spread infection. But schools, it turns out, with a few basic safety measures, including masks and reasonable distancing, are not a high-risk venue for Covid-19 transmission. In fact, they appear to have far lower rates of the virus than their surrounding communities. Still, some education union leaders are beginning to lay the foundation for schools remaining shuttered into the 2021-22 school year.”
“One sticking point, for example, has been the union’s early and continued insistence that desks remain at least six feet apart at all times. This requirement mathematically determines whether there is enough space for learners in the building. Distancing is absolutely critical to Covid-19 mitigation, but there is no magical threshold that makes six feet the “safe” distance and five feet “dangerous.”
In settings like school, where everyone is wearing a face covering, there really is no measurable difference in risk between being three feet and six feet apart. That is why there is no official guidance from any relevant public health body that mandates six-foot distancing at all times.”
“The union also named a lack of asymptomatic testing for teachers as a major barrier to return to in-person learning. To get kids back to school, we implemented such a routine testing plan, at great cost and logistical effort. We discovered that since testing began in January 2021, the positivity rate among teachers and staff has been approximately 0.15 percent — while cases were surging in the Boston metro area — and our contact tracing efforts have not identified any cases of in-building transmission.
Even so, the union continues to resist a return to full in-person learning. What’s more, the goalpost seems to have shifted again, now to universal vaccination of teachers.”
“last spring, we observed the experiences of other countries like Scotland, Singapore, and France, where schools reopened and masks and social distancing seemed to prevent large-scale transmission.
In the US, epidemiologists compared the timing of school closures to changes in Covid incidence. Some studies found that school closures might have reduced the spread of illness, but the findings are complicated because we were also making other major public health changes at the same time. And overall they failed to find a strong link.
Data and patterns also began to emerge about children’s Covid-19 test results and their exposures. Playdates with friends emerged as the common exposure among the infected; time in school did not.
Still, as reassuring as the data were, they were all indirect. The gold standard to learn if schools can open safely is fairly simple: Open schools, measure Covid incidence, and see what happens. Many US school districts have now done this, and we have the data.
First, researchers in North Carolina published results from 11 school districts and over 100,000 students and staff. Schools in those districts employed mandatory masking and six-foot distancing where feasible, but no major capital improvement to HVAC systems or buildings. In the first quarter of this school year, they found the rate of transmission of Covid in schools was dramatically lower (roughly 1/25) than the level of transmission in the community. Among all of the Covid-19 infections observed in school, the state health department’s tracers found 96 percent were acquired in the community, and there were no documented cases of the virus passing from child to adult in schools — zero.
Second, a similar study followed 17 schools in Wisconsin. Like North Carolina, those schools required masks indoors, three-foot distancing with effort to distance farther whenever feasible, and no major capital improvements. Between August 31 and November 29, with over 4,500 students and 650 staff, they found seven cases of Covid transmission to children and also found no cases of Covid transmission to educators in the buildings. Further, these schools eliminated Covid transmission at the same time that the surrounding community saw a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases.
A third important preprint study analyzes data from two schools in Atlanta. This study is small, but it is important because the schools were conducting routine asymptomatic screening of students, teachers, and staff. In Atlanta, 72 percent of the limited number of transmission events in one school were known to be the result of non-compliance with masking. And again here, there were no cases transmitted from students to teachers.
Sadly, at the same time that we are learning definitively that we can open schools safely and essentially prevent Covid transmission, data are emerging about the real damage being done to children by prolonged remote learning”
“Chicago Public Schools, though, has already implemented many of the mitigation strategies that government planners have in mind, and the district believes teachers can safely go back to class. Officials have good reason to think this: Outside major cities, many schools—including a great number of private schools that lack easy access to government dollars—have been open since at least September, and there’s simply no evidence of widespread disease in classrooms. Schools have not played host to superspreader events, and there’s little reason to think that students are infecting their teachers. Even the CDC, which is hardly known for taking an incautious approach to resuming normal life, says that schools can reopen safely.”
“There was a really open question: Are schools going to be the locus of tremendous spread? That conversation has shifted a lot, but in the summer there was this idea that we’re going to open schools and that’s going to be the thing that destroys everything.
That does not seem to be true. We’re not seeing schools as the locus of large amounts of spread. The rates are actually quite low—even though the way we measure rates, just to be clear, is not spread in schools, but just people affiliated with schools who have COVID. So it doesn’t mean they got it at the school. But even there, we’re seeing rates that are pretty much in line with what we’re seeing in the community. Maybe a little bit lower for students, maybe a little bit higher for staff.
We’re seeing fairly optimistic information about the idea that you could have schools operate safely, even in areas where there’s some reasonable amount of community spread. Masking probably does matter. That’s probably the most robust correlate in the data, that those places that are masking seem to have much lower rates than places that are not. But I think the thing that we got the most attention for—rightly, because it moved people’s priors a lot—was just this idea that not everyone at the school got COVID the day it opened.
We are seeing some of these differences across age groups. To the extent that there are places with larger numbers of cases, they seem to be high schools.”
“we have seen the thing that people feared at the college level. Not at all colleges, but a lot. When Penn State opened, you could see on a COVID map where Penn State is, because it was just totally overwhelmed. In some ways I find it actually surprising that we have not seen more high schools that looked like that. And I’m not sure why that’s so different.”
“We now have experience with school openings, both in the US and globally, and there is little data to support the idea that schools are a major site of transmission or a driver of community spread.
For example, New York City has had schools open in a hybrid model since early October and monitors Covid-19 in the district by testing a random sample of students and staff. As of November 12, results show that of more than 123,585 total tests conducted since October 9, only 228 were positive (0.19 percent) — 95 students and 133 staff. These results are still early in the year, and students are not back yet full-time, but with more than a month of data, and during a time when cases are rising in New York generally, Covid-19 is not tearing through New York City public schools.”
“Quickly closing schools — where we have not seen a lot of transmission — while leaving higher-risk establishments open — where there is a lot of transmission — does not make sense. When faced with overwhelming case surge and crushing hospital demand, school closure could be necessary to prevent further Covid-19 surge, but only as one component of a larger plan to reduce mobility and control transmission.”
“data has been emerging about the harms of ongoing school closures. Washington, DC’s public schools, which remain in a largely remote model despite having low local new case rates until recently, report substantial reductions in kindergarten students meeting or exceeding benchmarks for reading. And Chicago Public Schools, which also remain in a largely remote model, report a stunning 15,000-student decrease in enrollment this year. Unforeseen extended school closures lead to lower test scores, lower educational attainment, and decreased earning potential.
These gaps are not impacting all groups equally. The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) reports that districts with the highest rates of poverty are nearly twice as likely to be operating with remote learning as districts with the lowest rates. The higher a district’s share of white students, the more likely it is to offer in-person instruction — a pattern that generally holds across cities, towns, suburbs, and rural areas. A great racial and economic disparity is widening unnecessarily, one that will be sewn into the fabric of our society even beyond this generation if we do not rectify the problem now.”
“If the blue states are for holding back, many red states are recklessly opening their schools and increasing the odds of exposing children and staff to Covid-19 in the midst of raging outbreaks.”
“The longitudinal study, published by researchers at the University of Maryland and the firm Westat, looked at disciplinary offenses at 33 public middle and high schools in California that increased their number of school resource officers (SROs) in 2013 or 2014, and then compared them over time with 72 similar schools that did not. The study found that increasing the number of SROs led to both immediate and persistent increases in the number of drug and weapon offenses and the number of exclusionary disciplinary actions against students.
While the initial bump in offenses could be explained simply as an effect of increased policing, the boost in recorded crimes and exclusionary responses persisted for 20 months in the schools studied. The researchers say this suggests that rather than deter crime in schools, increasing the number of SROs leads to more “formal responses to behaviors that otherwise would have been undetected or handled informally.”
“Our findings suggest that increasing SRO staffing in schools does not improve school safety and that increasing exclusionary responses to school discipline incidents increases the criminalization of school discipline,” Denise Gottfredson, professor emerita at the University of Maryland Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said in a statement.”
“In Georgia’s Cherokee County School District, for example, there have been at least 80 positive cases since August 3, and more than 1,100 students, teachers, and staff have had to quarantine. At the high school in Paulding County School District, which came to national attention after photos of halls crowded with mostly maskless students went viral, several students and staff have tested positive, forcing the school to adopt a hybrid model of in-person and virtual learning. In Atlanta, one second-grader tested positive the day after classes started; the same week, a seven-year-old with no underlying conditions died from the virus.
Scientists have found clear evidence that children, especially those over 12, can and do transmit the virus, though the disease is generally more mild than in adults. This means school outbreaks can be a risk for students, teachers, and the wider community.”
“it’s not just kids, teachers, and parents who are then at risk — school outbreaks can fan wider outbreaks in communities. A recent superspreading event in Ohio, for example, found that children between ages 6 and 16 were part of the chain of transmission, passing the virus on to other children and adults.”
“The World Health Organization recommends that schools open only if fewer than five percent of those tested for the virus over a two-week period are positive. In the US, the cut-off for what is considered “safe” for reopening schools currently varies by state, but they all tend to look at similar factors”
“In Georgia, many schools also reopened despite high positivity rates — the percentage of people being tested for Covid-19 who have a positive result. Georgia’s number of positive tests per 100,000 people were also well above the general threshold that public health experts recommend for in-person activities.”
“Since testing overall is still inadequate to control the virus in the US, the CDC says the true incidence of Covid-19 in children is still unknown. But as Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC recently tweeted, kids between 5 and 17 now have the highest positivity rate of all age groups. “Age groups aren’t an island,” he wrote. “Spread in any group is a risk to all.””
“Denmark reopened elementary schools with extensive safety measures in place, like staggered entry time. Students were placed in small groups to reduce interaction, and hotels and libraries were utilized as additional class space. Even still, the rate of infection increased after Danish schools reopened, although not enough to keep total cases from declining.”
“there’s a definite trend: Countries like Vietnam and New Zealand, which have generally done a good job controlling spread, have successfully reopened schools. Others, with higher community transmission, like Chile, have struggled.”
“Overall, the sum of evidence — including independent studies from the US, Iceland, and Germany — finds older children may be as likely to spread the virus as adults when infected. A recent literature review found that “opening secondary/high schools is likely to contribute to the spread of SARS-CoV-2.” (The same review found that children under age 10 may be less susceptible to infection.)
Another review published in The Lancet highlights that adequate testing and contact tracing are essential to reopening schools. That’s not possible currently in many US states, which are still seeing positivity rates as high as 23 percent, along with extreme delays in test results.”
“The impact of the air filters is strikingly large given what a simple change we’re talking about. The school district didn’t reengineer the school buildings or make dramatic education reforms; they just installed $700 commercially available filters that you could plug into any room in the country. But it’s consistent with a growing literature on the cognitive impact of air pollution, which finds that everyone from chess players to baseball umpires to workers in a pear-packing factory suffer deteriorations in performance when the air is more polluted.
If Gilraine’s result holds up to further scrutiny, he will have identified what’s probably the single most cost-effective education policy intervention — one that should have particularly large benefits for low-income children.
And while it’s too hasty to draw sweeping conclusions on the basis of one study, it would be incredibly cheap to have a few cities experiment with installing air filters in some of their schools to get more data and draw clearer conclusions about exactly how much of a difference this makes.”