We need to educate ourselves on what a safe in-person education looks like


These statements are themselves designed to reflect a privileged worldview: that of single-family households and foster schools. It misses the perspective of vulnerable children and multigenerational families living with racial disparities and disabilities. The Biden administration inadvertently showed how invisible some of these groups are in the pink race to return to “normal” when Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had to apologize to advocates for the people with disabilities for an edited version of a TV interview that sounded like he said it was “really encouraging news” that most COVID deaths have been suffered by people suffering from at least four health problems.

As a physician and epidemiologist advising several community and educational groups throughout the pandemic, I hope that when the next crisis hits, we will start from the point where everyone suffers. Everyone should have a say in what a return to “normal” looks like.

We must remember, as Newtonian ageism scholar Margaret Gullette posits, that a major reason for the nation’s slow initial response to COVID-19 was that it was “only” the old people who were dying at first, in nursing homes. During the first half of the pandemic, 80% of COVID deaths were among people aged 65 and over.

We must remember that learning in school is no paradise for parents of color, who fear their children will be targeted for suspensions and special education in underfunded systems, which also have programs sanitized social studies. As one black parent told the Washington Post last fall amid a growing homeschooling movement by parents of color, “I feel like the school system is setting these kids up to fail, and I don’t want my child to be part of it. ”

White ‘in-school’ advocates don’t volunteer to say it’s safer to send white children to school because consequences of infections are mitigated by better basic health, fewer structures multi-generational family families and a greater ability to work from home, compared to the average Black or Latino worker.

White parents don’t fear losing their children or orphaning their children in the same way as parents and grandparents of color. Despite all the talk about children’s ability to generally resist the virus, black and indigenous children are, respectively, 3.5 times and 2.7 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white children. In a study published last month in the journal Pediatrics, black and Latino children were twice as likely to lose a parent or caregiver to COVID as a white child. Indigenous children were four and a half times more likely than a white child to lose a parent or caregiver.

Against this backdrop, it’s easy to see why rational black and Latino parents are consistently the most reluctant to send their kids back to in-person learning during the pandemic. Yet they are often portrayed as ignoramuses who need convincing.

Instead, it is school advocates who must abandon either/or thinking that reflexively views remote learning as an absolute evil. Last year, the Christian Science Monitor featured school districts that found remote learning had significant benefits in providing computers to low-income students, reducing academic losses from in-school suspensions, and providing flexibility in parent-teacher conferences. Lincoln, Neb., Superintendent Steve Joel told The Monitor, “I think we’ve learned to better individualize and differentiate instruction. I think we’ve always been good at it, but I think we’ve become much better at it.

This should inspire us to improve in this debate at school. Omicron is fading, but disparities remain. We need to educate ourselves on what safe in-person schooling looks like – for all families.

Dr. Michelle Holmes is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.


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