Why students need to return to school in the fall | COMMENTARY
By Christina Olson
For The Baltimore Sun|
Jul 08, 2020 at 12:01 PM
Last week, I had a heartbreaking conversation with a Maryland mom whose previously happy child had just received an emergency evaluation for suicidal ideation. While this case may sound extreme, it is not unlike other stories I have heard recently.
As the founder of a statewide, nonpartisan group advocating to reopen schools, I have spoken to children, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, therapists and other professionals from around the state who have seen, firsthand, the harmful impact of school closures in our state. All of them agree: The effects of school closure on children are significant and harmful, and our Maryland students need to be back in school.
Schools provide structure, learning opportunities, peer socialization and access to caring adults. I have heard heartbreaking tales about Maryland children on suicide watch, and children who are too depressed to leave the house or who have lost years of progress because of unsatisfied special education needs. My own children struggled with the sudden lack of structure, exclusion from peers and academic decline.
Tens of thousands of Maryland children did not participate in remote learning this past spring. How will we reach these children if school does not fully reopen? How will we educate children whose parents work full-time and are not able to supervise or support their learning on “hybrid” learning days? How will we ensure that older students left unsupervised for long days of remote instruction do not fall prey to high-risk behaviors such as drinking, drug use or inappropriate internet use?
It’s estimated that more than 200,000 cases of child abuse across the country went unreported this past spring, with teachers’ vigilant eyes not able to detect and report children at risk. How will we ensure the safety of those children in a remote model? How will we ensure an accessible, appropriate grade-level education for children with disabilities or those learning English, whose needs are not likely to be met by Zoom calls and work packets? All of these challenges will be exacerbated if schools do not open normally in the fall.
Thus far, the evidence has supported this idea of normal school reopening in the fall.
Maryland’s children deserve a realistic, transparent conversation about their needs and the path forward. We believe that returning children to school should not be a political question; Marylanders of all viewpoints should be able to weigh the evidence and have a reasoned conversation about how best to serve our children while ensuring they are safe. Children have unique needs and unique susceptibility to COVID-19, and the most responsible path forward for school reopening may look different from the path forward for other sectors of our country.
As officials evaluate options, we deserve to know that the school systems are considering the most current research and fully weighing the impact on our children. It is vital that all of us — school district leaders, state officials and community members — prioritize returning our children to school with an appropriate experience that will support their needs. We must consider all elements of this problem so that our children can return to a healthy learning environment and truly thrive.
Christina Olson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is founder of Return2Learn Maryland Schools, a community-based, nonpartisan group focused on practical, evidence-based, student-friendly policies for school reopening.