Getting kids back to school must be America’s top priority:

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America is grappling with a national education emergency, and we wonder why the alarm bells aren’t ringing louder.

Millions of public school students remain stuck at home for school, where they watch electronic screens instead of attending class in classrooms, where they would be much more actively engaged with their teachers and classmates. class.

Some children are undoubtedly working diligently on their lessons, with parents and teachers coaxing them as they make the most of a bad situation brought on by COVID-19. But common sense says that many other children are likely to learn much less, if at all.

As a country, we cannot allow distance learning, a third-rate alternative to reality, to become the “new normal”. Or we’ll have failed an entire generation.

But right now, as far as we can tell, the United States is doing just that, apparently more upset with closed bars than closed classrooms. We feel the priorities are upside down, as Joseph Allen, professor at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University recently lamented.

“The second we closed the schools in March, it should have been an urgent and national priority to find a plan to get them back,” Allen told the Harvard Journal. “Instead, we opened things like bars, restaurants and casinos, and now we have millions of children out of school. We have children who are totally missing.

The long-term consequences for children’s education and social development are potentially devastating, as Allen and other experts warn. The dangers are especially great for low-income children of color, whose families have the fewest resources to make distance learning really work.

“What is our job in this country? Allen asked. “It’s to educate and take care of the next generation. “

An educational Marshall Plan

Politicians keep talking about economic recovery. And, as a result, much of the public debate over a possible new federal stimulus package has focused on the importance of saving struggling businesses and consolidating the shabby finances of state and local governments.

We are all for it.

But every public school district in major cities across the country is also asking for help, and the next stimulus package – if Washington ever gets its act together – has to start there.

We envision some sort of Marshall Plan for education, with every primary and secondary school, even in the poorest communities, given the resources and expert advice to safely reopen as quickly as possible.

We are thinking of a portable air purifier in every classroom, as Allen requested, to improve ventilation and curb the spread of viral particles. We are thinking of mandatory masks, additional cleaning of buildings and smaller classrooms to allow for social distancing.

Nothing we can do will eliminate all risk. But much more can be done to minimize the risks and make reopening schools more achievable.

It’s about doing whatever it takes.

A cautious boost

Chicago Public Schools Friday announced a plan to slowly return to in-person learning. Preschoolers and children with special needs would return to school next month. Elementary and secondary students could return to school from January.

We support this effort, even though we understand the reservations of others.

Yes, we know Chicago and Illinois are experiencing a disturbing resurgence of COVID-19. It is understandable why many parents are suspicious. And we see that the Chicago Teachers Union has already signaled its opposition, calling the CPS plan “reckless.”

But we’re more convinced by Chicago’s Public Health Commissioner Dr Allison Arwady review of the work that has gone into the plan – that the CPS is prepared to put on hold if the spread of the virus worsens.

Arwady and his team began by examining cases of COVID-19 in Chicago involving children under the age of 18, including those who attend daycare programs, park programs, and private and parish schools. What they concluded, which is supported by research fact in other states and foreign countries, is that reopening of schools – carried out with responsible caution – does not generally lead to widespread outbreaks of COVID-19.

“When the proper precautions are taken,” said Arwady, “transmission in these settings is rare.”

“Just as I believe health care is essential and a human right, access to education is essential and a human right,” she added. “I am a pediatrician. If I thought it was dangerous, I wouldn’t support it.

“Devastating consequences”

Some CPS parents will choose to have their children continue distance learning. But many other parents – and students – seem to think it isn’t working well enough for them.

On Friday we got a letter from a junior at Taft High School who just thought we needed to know:

“My virtual school is a joke,” she wrote. “It’s mid-October and this week alone two of my classes have been changed. Two others have rotating submarines. I still don’t have any manuals. The tests are a joke. Nobody cares. It really is a waste. I would take any other option offered.

Our children deserve a better, safe and early education.

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