We should try to keep our schools open

Published 10:53 am Friday, November 27, 2020

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In the suburbs of Philadelphia, Montgomery County’s Board of Health issued an order by unanimous vote last week to shut down all in-person learning at school for two weeks.

The reason for the shutdown is the reason every local, regional, and national official has used over the past eight or so months: COVID, corona, Wuhan, call it whatever you want. The pandemic is making decisions for us.

Except, not everyone is accepting these decisions with the docility that these governmental entities had hoped or expected. A group of parents in the county have been battling back against the edict, filing two separate lawsuits in state and federal courts to keep the schools open.

The federal case alleges that the shutdown order violates the due process and equal protection rights of parents and, most importantly, children. As of this writing, there has been no decision in that litigation.

If I were the judge, I’d have no problem finding in favor of the parents. Closing down schools is a random act that, unlike closing restaurants and for-profit institutions, cannot be justified under the general “well the welfare of the community trumps the economic needs of the small business owner.” Here, the science has shown that the virus does not pose a serious threat in academic settings, and the incidence of spread is statistically insignificant. In fact, until quite recently, the Centers for Disease Control had posted guidance on its website urging schools to reopen. That message was mysteriously removed under circumstances that, at this moment, have little bearing on the scientific data.

If anything, COVID-19 is spread at the school-age level by sporting events, private gatherings and other situations that put children in contact with others who are not taking the appropriate precautions. Most schools, on the other hand, have taken the precautions that are more than necessary to keep children safe and, more importantly, prevent them from infecting the adults in their circle.

But despite the science, officials are ordering children be forced back into the virtual dungeons they inhabited from March through July. It is unconscionable that these de facto oligarchs are telling parents what is best for their children, particularly where the science proves that giving those parents a choice is a legitimate alternative.

We are seeing cases of serious psychic and psychological damage being caused by these unnecessary shutdowns, with young children losing the social skills that they were just starting to develop in elementary and middle schools. We are seeing kids who are channeling the stress and anxiety of the adults around them but without the coping mechanisms that come with maturity. We are watching as young boys and girls are not only missing out on the benefits of proximity and kinship, of interaction and reaction, but are becoming fearful little vessels of apprehension.

This is wrong. And the fact that it is being done under the guise of “protecting children” and reducing the spread is as dishonest as it is reprehensible.

It is clearly not the solution for the economically disadvantaged child who doesn’t have a laptop, and whose mom and dad work two jobs to make ends meet, and will not need to get third and fourth jobs to pay for day care. It is definitely not the solution for children with learning disabilities, whom are already impacted by the isolation from friends and teachers who cannot communicate concern, knowledge and real time caring through a portal.

It is bad enough that we are turning our cities and towns into some updated version of Tombstone, where the tumbleweeds that roll through the streets bear the labels of all of the stores that have been forced to close. It is bad enough to say to small business owners, especially restaurateurs, that they are selfish if they dare complain about restrictions. It is bad enough to make people feel ashamed for wanting to celebrate a holiday with loved ones who might not be here next year.

But it’s so much worse to carry this anti-scientific virtue signaling into the classroom. The virus is invisible. Unfortunately, so is the price we will pay for this unnecessary crusade to close the schools.

Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at cflowers1961@gmail.com.