Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of American students in grades K-12 have not set foot in a classroom since March. Can you identify which of the following statements about school closures is false? 

A. In-person learning is unsafe.
B. Virtual learning fails students.
C. School closures have enormous secondary harms.

Let’s take these statements one at a time:

A. LIE!  Students face little risk of contracting COVID-19 at school, and a number of studies now indicate that in-person learning has little effect on the number of additional COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, or fatalities in the community. To the contrary, at least one study suggests that school closures may actually contribute to spread of the virus. 

B. TRUTH!  Research from Stanford University indicates that, as a result of COVID-related school closures, students in South Carolina have fallen behind one complete school year in reading; the same study indicates that students in Illinois have lost more than a full school year in math. Washington D.C. public schools recently reported a 9% decline in the number of K-2 students meeting literacy benchmarks. Academic losses such as these have affected students across the country and from all walks of life, with low income and special needs students hit hardest. Experts predict that the losses will not be made up easily in subsequent school years.

C. TRUTH!  School closures take a heavy economic toll on parents who may need to miss work, reduce hours, or even quit their jobs in order to supervise online learning.  In addition, social isolation caused by school closures can lead to serious mental health problems and can delay social-emotional development in children and teens — problems that can last for years after the isolation has ended.

Bottom line:  Given the high cost of school closures and the low risk of reopening, all schools should return to full-time, in-person learning as soon as practicable. Where community transmission is high, local leaders should consider closing restaurants, bars, or other indoor spaces where adults congregate, rather than closing schools.