Parents Protest Across the Country for Open Schools
Coast to coast, parents are demanding that leaders act on the consistent advice of public health experts and open previously-closed schools
December 6, 2020
NEW YORK CITY, SAN FRANCISCO — Parents across the United States are calling on leaders to follow the guidance of public health experts on COVID and schools, and to take urgent action to open schools in regions where they have been closed, in spite of low-to-moderate COVID rates.
This weekend, nine parent protests are happening across the US: in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Portland (OR), Atlanta, Nashville, New York City, and more. They share a common goal: reopening of schools in regions where public schools remain closed, yet private schools (and much more) have remained open.
Public health experts now agree: schools can reopen and remain open safely, without driving COVID transmission. Yet many elected leaders are ignoring this consensus. Counterintuitively, schools are closed in areas with the lowest rates of COVID.
Parents are calling on leaders to follow the guidance of Dr. Fauci, CDC Director Redfield and the CDC’s latest guidelines, Dr. Tanya Altman of AAP, Dr. Dimitri Christakis and his colleagues at JAMA, Dr. Ashish Jha, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the New England Journal of Medicine, UNICEF recommendations based on their research from 191 countries, the World Health Organization, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Marc Lipsitch, infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, sixty-one concerned pediatricians, and more — and open our schools.
The majority of US school districts reopened this fall. Therefore, communities that keep schools closed this year, or closed them at low-positivity rates to contain COVID spread, are outliers. Across Europe, schools have remained open, even as countries battled COVID. In light of the growing concerns about children’s mental health, physical health, and educational outcomes from remote learning, we must demand the reopening of schools in all-remote regions, given that schools from Rhode Island to Florida are open.
The apparent culprit for persistent closures — that special interests, rather than public health experts, are driving decisions about school reopening — troubles parents. A pattern has formed of elected leaders disregarding the public health guidance around schools: California’s top public health officer declared that “schools should absolutely reopen,” and the state’s reopenings have been a success according to health officials, yet most districts remain remote. In New York City, public health officials were against school closures — but the mayor closed schools, anyway. President-elect Biden reinforced the concerns in recent interviews, with allusions to taking his guidance from unions.
We want our leaders taking their guidance from public health experts, not special interests, when our children’s wellness and education are at stake.
Parents support safe reopening measures, including testing efforts, mask mandates, and the classification of teachers and day care employees as essential workers, so they receive vaccines as early as possible. Teachers have every right to such protections. Further, parents stand with teachers in seeking to keep our schools low-spread environments.
While we want COVID mitigation measures in our schools, we call on leaders to keep up with the very latest in mitigation guidance. Back in March, experts told us that touching our face might spread COVID. Now, we know better, and we focus on the truly important actions. Schools must similarly keep up with the latest guidance. For example, the CDC recently shortened quarantine guidelines. Experts have begun recommending that US schools use 3-foot distancing guidelines, to align with the World Health Organization’s distancing approach. We expect leaders to keep up with the evolving understanding of COVID, and to quickly implement current approaches in schools.
Accordingly, it is worrisome to hear president-elect Biden speaking of a need for “sanitizing” schools — with a massive price tag — when Dr. Ashish Jha says that cleaning surfaces is “completely misplaced” as a mitigation measure. Biden’s recent comments have raised concerns that a school funding bill is being positioned as the answer to reopening outlier schools. Parents want our leaders to know: we do not want to wait for an inauguration and a legislative session to see our schools reopened. At least sixty percent of districts reopened this fall without a federal funding bill, therefore we know funding is not the blocker. It is likely that schools will need additional funding, if only because of the academic losses our students have incurred and the remediation costs to come. Yet today, parents do not want our children’s access to education used as a political trading card. Parents want schools reopened with urgency.
While this has become a national movement, specific parent demands vary by region, based on local context. San Francisco schools have never been opened, in spite of the city’s low 1% positivity for much of the fall. Its parents demand schooling for their children. In New York City, where leaders have committed to reopening elementary schools on December 7, parents are now focused on reopening middle and high schools, which remain arbitrarily closed. While parent advocacy varies by region, the overarching call is the same: parents see clearly what public health experts recommend, and now we demand that our elected leaders act on it.
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