Given Arizona’s recent pandemic statistics, Peoria’s governing board and school administrators are confronted with a difficult decision — potentially opening schools after Labor Day Weekend. These officials must decide if the risk of reopening Peoria’s 42 schools outweighs the immediate and long-term physical, mental and academic well-being of our district’s 36,000 children and their families.
We have been bombarded daily with multiple reports and pundits professing to have the answers, while contradictory expert recommendations, misstated data and political pressures are only fueling a parent’s uncertainty to do what is best for their children. But I do believe there are some leading facts that should guide a decision to reopen schools as soon as possible.
According to reports and clear empirical evidence, children are less likely to face serious health risk from COVID-19, and there is now growing evidence that spread to family members is minimal.
I believe keeping schools closed past Labor Day will have lifelong consequences for our children’s health and economic outcome. Each year in the U.S., many children die from child abuse and neglect, and, I believe, the numbers will substantially increase if schools remain closed for a protracted period of time. When children are deprived of opportunities for socialization and academic development, those children from economically challenged families will disproportionately suffer. Research shows that low-income and special needs students lose more than a year of academic gains during interrupted school closures, resulting in a widening gap of inequality and economic disparity over their entire lifetime. Moreover, parents with limited education and resources will struggle to facilitate online learning methods, and even worse, some parents may be forced to leave their young children at home alone so they can work. Children left alone can lead to risky behaviors, including substance abuse, sexual exploitation and teen pregnancies.
We should at the very minimum open schools for the most vulnerable special needs children and early K-3 learners. This will allow for adequate social distancing. Finally, teachers who are at risk can facilitate virtual online learning, while teachers with minimal risk factors can be part of schools reopening for face-to-face instruction.
If we don’t protect the future of our students, we risk the loss of an entire generation to poverty and dependency.
Editor’s note: Linda Busam is a candidate for the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board.