Before COVID-19, everything was about preserving life for the Next Generation: Climate Change? The opioid crisis? Gun control? Crusades against all have been made in the name of our next generation. What about reopening schools?
Heartbreaking stories of lonely, purposeless kids committing suicide and increasing data showing how COVID-19 spreads raises the question: Why haven't we opened schools nationwide?
The case for keeping them closed is increasingly weak, if not nonexistent. If schools really had children's best interests at heart, they would open them so kids could be educated and receive the social and emotional support they need. Many kids are facing nearly a year of being locked down and forced to do school virtually.
A recent piece in the Colorado Sun puzzles over multiple teen suicides—all of whom have killed themselves during the pandemic.
"At least seven young people have died by suicide in the last several months in the northeastern corner of Colorado, a 10-county region that spans 17,000 square miles but is among the least populated in the state. That's according to a count by the local community mental health center; the state health department won't release official 2020 suicide statistics for several months."
While the article refrains from blaming school lockdowns for the students' deaths and interviews mental health experts who said that explanation was too simplistic, isolating kids who already live in small towns certainly hasn't helped.
The author interviewed Mark Phillips, a pastor at First Baptist Church in Sterling, who has been trying to help counsel teens in his area who are depressed. "I'm not sure people can really comprehend just how far-reaching this issue has gotten with our teenage and younger crowd," Phillips said.
"In rural areas, where the students are highly involved in local activities, to have all of those things that they have been setting up and preparing for over the years be squashed and pulled away? All of a sudden, everything in your senior year gets sucked away."
Phillips hints that kids who are lonely, cut off from any social interaction or other avenue that provides purpose has "caused them to go into a funk, into a hole." Who can blame them? While adults are undoubtedly struggling too, many of them have purpose—their work, their kids, their home—aging parents—something. Teenagers already live in a self-created compressed vortex of their own making. The continued school lockdowns only made that shrink even more.
Many school districts seem to recognize that schools need to open, but still, schools so not open. This is often at the behest of teachers' unions, which continually cite faulty science and COVID-19 spread as reasons they can't open.
A Washington Post piece about Washington, DC schools that remain closed against city officials' better judgement paints a horrifying display of selfishness on behalf of the local teachers' unions who seized the reopening debate as a chance to make outlandish demands of city politicians.
"The city spent the next five months trying to bring students and teachers back to classrooms. A combination of mismanagement by the mayor and her aides and intransigence from the District's teachers union combined to thwart every move, according to interviews with city officials, union leaders, educators and activists. The city kept changing its plan, and the union kept changing its demands. A lack of trust on both sides fueled failure at every turn."
That doesn't sound like a teachers' union with students' best interests at heart.
Science too, supports kids going back to school. Over the last few months, we've learned students rarely transmit COVID-19, even to teachers, and that people without symptoms also rarely transmit it. This means multiple rounds of quarantine for kids who are physically in schools is also based on disproven assumptions.
There's no good reason to keep kids learning virtually, teachers' unions demands be damned. Kids in rural areas, without WiFi, or who are just plain lonely need the purpose and interaction that for many, school provides, however imperfectly. If kids were committing suicide over climate change we'd open schools no problem. We say we really care about the Next Generation: It's time to reopen the schools.
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