Life always is more difficult for the poor. Life in a pandemic that has caused many millions of people to lose their jobs under severe and open-ended lockdowns and restrictions has proved even more so, particularly for children.
Last week, The Daily News reported about the difficult choices parents faced when deciding whether to choose in-person school or remote learning for their children during the lingering coronavirus pandemic.
But the fact is, some parents didn’t have real choices.
“Parents of means can always find ways to educate their children, whether by enrolling them in private school or hiring tutors,” Jenin Younes, a public defender in New York City wrote earlier this month in an article titled “What’s Gone Wrong with Left-Liberalism and Lockdowns” for the conservative American Institute for Economic Research.
“But for working-class and poor parents, who do not have those options, and cannot afford a laptop per child, the continued school shutdown is an epic disaster.”
In some circles, it’s taboo or considered callous or morally bankrupt to question the logic of blanket lockdowns or to suggest thoughtfully weighing risks as we try to navigate and understand this pandemic.
“Anyone who dares suggest we have overreacted to the threat of coronavirus, and in doing so, have caused more harm than the disease itself, is accused of being a grandma-killer, a fascist and worse,” Younes wrote.
What’s callous and morally bankrupt is to conveniently overlook the plight of millions of people who are deprived of education or means to make a living, pushing them toward economic ruin, homelessness, ill health and despair.
In an Aug. 24 article titled, “New Thinking on COVID Lockdowns: They’re Overly Blunt and Costly,” The Wall Street Journal reported the equivalent of 400 million jobs have been lost worldwide, 13 million in the United States alone.
Researchers interviewed for the article consider ways to balance saving jobs and educating children, while protecting vulnerable populations, noting the virus is especially deadly for the elderly, particularly in nursing homes.
Their conclusions offered a less frightening picture of opening schools.
“By contrast, fewer children have died this year from COVID-19 than from flu,” according to the article. “And studies in Sweden, where most schools stayed open, and the Netherlands, where they reopened in May, found teachers at no greater risk than the overall population.
“This suggests reopening schools outside of hot spots, with protective measures, shouldn’t worsen the epidemic, while alleviating the toll on working parents and on children.”
If schools don’t reopen until January, low-income children will have lost a year of education, which translates to 4 percent lower lifetime earnings, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. told the Wall Street Journal.
“Teachers, administrators, and parents have worked hard to keep learning alive; nevertheless, these efforts are not likely to provide the quality of education that’s delivered in the classroom,” according to McKinsey & Co.’s June 1 report.
“Even more troubling is the context: the persistent achievement disparities across income levels and between white students and students of Black and Hispanic heritage. School shutdowns could not only cause disproportionate learning losses for these students — compounding existing gaps — but also lead more of them to drop out.
“This could have long-term effects on these children’s long-term economic well-being and on the U.S. economy as a whole.”
With some hindsight and more understanding every day about COVID-19, it’s time for more open and honest — and less partisan and ideological — debate about how governments and schools should react. Clearly, less politics and more pragmatism is needed.
We thank the educators in Galveston County who have understood this all along, striving to provide in-school education to thousands of students safely with careful precautions in place for students and employees. We also implore them to resist overreacting when cases arise at campuses, as they invariably will, and make the decision to close schools as one of last resort.
• Laura Elder