This piece originally appeared in the Herald-Tribune on April 5, 2021.
My mother is a kindergarten teacher who – like many educators across the country – was anxious to welcome her students and get back to teaching this school year. Her school in Florida has a student body of 300, and it has been open for in-person teaching since August.
At the start of the school year, my mother saw a vast difference between her strongest students and those who were further behind – mostly due to their experiences last year after COVID-19 restrictions were put into place. And she has continued to observe how much of a beneficial impact in-person learning has had on young kids; learning how to read, write and respectfully interact with other children is incredibly critical for early elementary students.
If we are not careful, this pandemic will be incredibly dangerous for the future of our children.
Our nation must be focused on distributing the coronavirus vaccines, reopening businesses and opening schools up to in-person learning. Much of the attention from politicians and the media has been on the first two priorities. But as a country we will recover financially – and we will soon be able to live without masks and social distancing. The impact on our children’s education, however, will be long-lasting and will affect us for decades to come.
When it comes to primary and secondary education, the data favors opening schools for in-person learning. There is increasing evidence that there is not a causation between school openings and higher cases of COVID-19. Other research suggests that children are not major spreaders of the virus. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children represented just 13.4% of all COVID-19 cases and 0% to 0.19% of COVID-related deaths; meanwhile, 10 states reported no child deaths through late March.
Statistically children are more likely to die from unintentional drowning than this virus – yet we don’t get rid of our swimming pools. Instead we take proper precautions to prevent these deaths, such as putting up gates around pools. We should do the same during the pandemic.
But our focus shouldn’t just be on children’s current physical health; it should also be on the pandemic’s potential future health effects. In February 2020, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry released its recommendations for screen time limitations for children. The organization recommended a limit of 1 hour for children 2- to 5-years-old – and it encouraged limiting screen time as much as possible for children ages 6 and older.
However, during the pandemic children have been asked to spend entire school days online, affecting their sleep habits, development and interpersonal relationships. For many children, remote learning is more harmful to their physical health than the virus will ever be.
When we keep children at home – stuck with school on a screen – we rob them of the joys in their lives and hinder their personal growth and development.
Julia Canzano is a native of Cape Coral. She is a senior at Boston College studying history and political science. Canzano is president of the Network of enlightened Women (NeW) chapter at Boston College and also a NeW Student Media Fellow. NeW is part of the growing conservative movement on college campuses.