In this time of hyper-partisanship and limitless access to information, it’s easy to find positions on school reopening with which we strongly disagree. But as we wrestle with political polarization over how to manage schooling during COVID-19, let us remind ourselves that we all care about our children's well-being.
We can start with a basic question: who has the best interest of children at heart? The answer should be obvious. Parents do! Think of your neighbors from across the political aisle. Do you know of any who would want anything other than their children physically safe, taken care of, becoming their best selves, and flourishing into mature and independent adults?
But how do we serve the best interests of children during a pandemic? How should schools reopen? When parents are forced to weigh the competing interests of physical safety, academic development, social development and other factors, how do these priorities stack up against each other? It’s on this level that we disagree, and rightfully so, because these are complicated questions.
Americans have a wide range of responses to school reopening. Some lean toward online-only classes, some want in-person experiences, and some want a mix of both. There are all sorts of details to work out. But evidence exists to suggest that we actually have many common values in terms of physical safety and children's’ broader health.
Americans across the political spectrum care about physical safety. Recall from the discussion on flattening the COVID curve that the goal of preventive measures is to avoid overwhelming our hospitals beyond capacity, not to reduce spread to zero. Also, sources from both the left and right sides of the aisle cite research that indicates children are less likely to suffer severe symptoms than adults.
it’s possible to see how keeping children out of school poses its own unique safety risks. Sources from both sides indicate that child abuse and learning disabilities are more likely to remain unreported and continue when the child is home without a parent than when in school. Also think about how safe a young child is if they’re left home alone because their parent(s) cannot afford to stay home with the child. For students old enough to attend school, public schools provide a form of universal child care.
Sources from both sides of the aisle also acknowledge that schools provide basic services such as meal delivery, health care, and psychological counseling — services that are especially valuable to our most vulnerable children. This suggests that closing schools can disproportionally affect poorer communities. Those lucky enough to have a full-time parent at home, or ample access to tutors and technology, are likely in a much better position to cope with this disruption.
Us Americans face a complex challenge in deciding how to handle school openings during COVID-19. As we wrestle with this, it’s important to remember how much we all care about the health and education of children, and seeing how reopening schools is anything but a binary matter.
Instead, the question of reopening schools lies on a spectrum. The majority of Americans likely realize that either extreme end of the spectrum – be it full reopening without safety precautions or indefinite shutdown without any goal to eventually reopen – would not be appropriate.
Americans face questions of degrees: how much to reopen, how many safety measures to put into place, how many conditions would have to change to warrant a change in course, how much leeway parents should have to choose whether to send their child to school in person or keep them at home, and so on. It’s about reminding ourselves that we all care deeply about the well-being of children, and figuring out the ideal balance on the spectrum of reopening and shutdown.
Rolf Hendriks is a software engineer with a passion for writing. He became involved in the depolarization movement when he joined Braver Angels, participating in Braver Angels book discussions and debates while publishing a depolarization song for the Braver Angels songwriting contest. Rolf has a Center bias.
This piece was reviewed by James Coan of Braver Angels (Center bias). It was edited by AllSides Managing Editor Henry A. Brechter (Center bias).