We wholeheartedly agree with the Conway and Bartlett school boards' decisions to start school with “face-to-face” learning and encourage other SAU 9 school boards to do the same.
While prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 must be taken very seriously, including wearing masks and doing physical distancing, we applaud school administrators for realizing that the value of in-school learning far exceeds the risks.
How risky? New Hampshire is one of only six states where the COVID infection rate stands at four or less for every 100,000 people (according to the Census Bureau). That’s already low, and in Carroll County, infections are statistically almost non-existent. Out of the 6,861 infections in the state, only 23 have been recorded in Conway. That's .0003 percent. And even in the parts of the state where the virus is more prevalent, infections are concentrated in groups that most of us aren’t part of. For example, nursing home residents account for 30 percent of infections and health-care providers, another 25 percent.
And for children ages 5-14, the pandemic barely registers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, out of 45 million children of that age in this country, only 28 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19. To put it in perspective, in 2016, 190 children died of the flu or pneumonia.
Will opening schools increase the likelihood of transmission? That's obviously unknowable right now, but Europe, which is ahead of us on the pandemic timeline and has already opened schools, offers some clues.
Western European countries opened their schools in the spring, many using different approaches, but all have had similar results: very low transmission rates. In fact, one German hospital official said that “children may act as a brake on infection.”
So how safe are teachers? An epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh observed, “It is extremely difficult to find any instance anywhere in the world of a child (under 15) transmitting to a teacher in school.”
But parents can take an active role in prevention. Although there are many symptoms related to the virus, a statistically reliable one continues to be temperature. It takes only a minute to take a child’s temperature and if the student’s temperature is elevated, well, he or she should stay home (even if it's just a cold or seasonable flu).
In our daily lives, whether it's driving a car, playing a sport or, now, going to a restaurant, we constantly make rational risk-reward analyses. Sending children to school is no different.
While teachers and administrators made Herculean efforts to switch to remote learning in the spring, on balance, it was a near waste of time.
With in-school learning, there are students and teachers who give it their all and those who don't. Lacking the centralized structure of a school, the dynamic of those who do and don't became obvious. Some kids, with the right teachers and support system at home, did fine. But many floundered. And of course, there are myriad other disruptive issues attendant to remote learning, from lack of broadband to lack of child care for working parents.
At this point, barring a fall surge in infections, the reward of in-school learning far exceeds the risk. School administrators have made the right call.