No, DC schools should not reopen

Aaron Gorman

One month ago, as COVID-19 cases in DC and across the country began to rise again, a petition was started with the goal of reopening DC schools. Since then, despite thousands of new cases and data suggesting schools are widely responsible for major outbreaks, the petition has gained over 1,000 supporters. The idea that now is the right time to reopen schools shows intense selfishness and scientific illiteracy. For the safety of our teachers, our parents, and our city, we cannot open schools until it is safe. 

On December 7, the DC Department of Health released information on where COVID outbreaks are occurring in the city and found that schools account for over 17% of all outbreaks, the second-highest percentage of any area they had data for. The notion that schools don’t cause outbreaks is simply false and has been disproven time and time again. Nevertheless, parents insist that their children go back to school, demonstrating a complete disregard for public health. 

In addition to the clear health risk that reopening would cause, it would also create an even more difficult situation for educators, putting them under an immense amount of stress and forcing them to choose between their health and their jobs. While it is true that most children do not get seriously ill with Covid, the same cannot be said for teachers, meaning reopening could significantly jeopardize their health. Combine that with the fact that teachers would likely be obligated to juggle a mix of online and in-person learning, and it’s easy to see why the Washington Teachers Union opposes transitioning to in-person. Educators have always been exceptionally underappreciated and underpaid. Requiring them to take on the new challenges posed by teaching during a pandemic would be deeply immoral and disrespectful to some of our most important essential workers. 

The petition argues that school closures can be detrimental to children’s mental health and education, which is true. However, throwing over 50,000 children and thousands of educators, not to mention the dozens of other staff that are necessary to keep a school functioning, into a stressful, confusing, and dangerous environment is not the solution. Neither education nor mental health would be improved if teachers are stuck splitting their energy between students on computer screens and students in person, and an inevitable COVID-19 outbreak would certainly not help anyone’s stress levels. Rather than investing time and effort into reopening before it is safe, these “concerned parents” should be fighting for increased mental health funding for schools, and for more and better online educational training. 

The fact is, the current downsides of restarting in-person learning strongly outweigh the upsides. Until we can be sure that reopening is safe, it would be irresponsible to attempt it. The creators of this petition and everyone who is fighting for a return to school are ignoring the dangers reopening presents to teachers, students, and the entire DC community. As long as the pandemic is raging, people should be staying in their homes, and that includes students.