How Safe It Really Is to Reopen Schools in the Pandemic

Some schools are planning to open back up for in-person classes in the fall—but should they? Here’s what experts have to say.

Around the country, parents are coming to terms with the idea of their children returning to school in the fall amid a pandemic or, in many cases, trying to decide whether or not to opt for remote learning. Some parents are even wondering if it makes more sense to transition to homeschooling to keep their families safe. With more than 3.8 million cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. and school districts deciding what’s best for students based on local health data, it’s hard to picture what, exactly, the school will look like come fall. Desks spread six feet apart, students and staff in masks, and the real potential of kids on alternating schedules if they’re able to get back into classrooms at all—the 2020-2021 school year is going to be like nothing we’ve seen before.

According to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey, only 19 percent of K-12 parents want the school to fully reopen for students in the fall; 26 percent are open to a hybrid schedule, where kids would only be in schools part of the time, and 42 percent say schools should be completely closed or moved online.

Teachers—especially those that are immunocompromised or have underlying medical conditions—aren’t any more excited at the thought of going back to classrooms full-time. In fact, some educators are preparing wills and goodbye letters as school plans come into place. Educators in Florida have even sued Gov. Ron DeSantis over his decision to fully reopen schools despite rising COVID-19 cases and teachers in Wisconsin are calling for schools to remain closed.

On one hand, parents are eager to have their children socialize, have genuine face time with teachers, and get back to “normal,” but on the other hand, they’re anxious about the possibility of exposing their family to COVID-19. Part of the problem? Continuously conflicting—and inconclusive—information on a very new disease.

First, we were told that children were less likely to get the coronavirus and that, in many cases, they may be asymptomatic carriers. Then, cases of the multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C)—the new disease with ties to COVID-19—began popping up. Now we’re hearing about the 85 infants in one Texas county who tested positive for COVID-19, the large new South Korea study that showed children between the ages of 10 and 19 spread the coronavirus just as much as adults do, and the fact that summer camps are already becoming COVID-19 hot spots—with outbreaks happening in Missouri, New Jersey, and Texas.

Sure, infants and children generally display mild coronavirus symptoms, but severe complications are possible, especially for those with underlying conditions. And if older children are just as likely to spread COVID-19 as adults, what’s that mean for transmission in schools? What kind of confidence can parents have about sending their children to school in person this year?