Bethesda, MD, Jan 28 – “Thousands of parents in Montgomery County trust the CDC and our nation’s leading public health experts when they say it’s safe to return to classrooms, and as schools across the country continue to reopen, we are getting more and more frustrated that our kids remain part of only 25% of students still hostage to failed virtual learning” said Kevin Dougherty, a leader of OpenMCPS, an organization representing thousands of parents and students in Montgomery County who support reopening, many of whom are scientists, health care professionals and infectious disease experts. “Now that the overwhelming evidence and medical consensus says it’s time to reopen all schools, how much longer can we allow fear and some very sad but few anecdotal stories to drive policy? We strongly urge our BOE to focus on the science and send our children back to the superior in-person instruction we sought out when we moved to Montgomery County.”
Below is a sampling of statements demonstrating the fear, followed by the scientific evidence.
Chris Lloyd, Montgomery County Education Association president. "As much as we are concerned about learning loss, in the interim, we are more concerned about the loss of life."
A new CDC report released Tuesday found only scant spread of COVID in schools with precautions in place, and that in-person instruction can be carried out safely as long as mask-wearing and social distancing are maintained. The researchers pointed out that even in places with high infection rates, there is no evidence that schools will transmit the virus at rates any higher than those seen in the general community. Lead author, Dr. Honein, stated, “We didn’t know that at the beginning of the year, but the data has really accumulated.”
A CDC report released earlier this month found that despite 62% of schools being open between March 2020 and December 2020, community infection rates between communities offering live instruction and virtual instruction were the same.
An Ohio study found that close contacts of infected students rarely became infected themselves.
Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, published a study that found that transmission within the school environment is low with proper risk mitigation strategies in place. Duke and UNC researchers found that in 11 school districts with nearly 100,000 in-school infections were extremely rare.
Doctors from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a world class center for children’s health, endorse return to in-person school. One of Philadelphia’s most prominent experts on how to handle schooling during the pandemic said Friday that going to school may actually reduce a child’s risk of catching the coronavirus and that “schools may be islands of safety.”
The world’s leading health experts support reopening schools. New CDC Director Dr. Walensky, and both former CDC Directors Drs. Robert Redfield and Thomas Frieden, NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Ashish Jha of the Brown University School of Public Health, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Dr. Nina Schwalbe of the UN Institute of Global Health, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, have echoed that data now shows schools can be reopened safely and it is essential to do so.
Governors have found schools are one of the safest places for children and teachers during this pandemic. Colorado Governor Polis on CNN this week: “The majority of our school districts have been in-person all year long and we have seen no increase of the virus in the areas where the schools have been fully in, in comparison to areas of our state, including some of our cities, where schools have not been in session. With the precautions that we’re taking…school’s one of the safer places you can be during this pandemic.” New York Governor Cuomo on CNN this week: “I said here in NY months ago that all the data says the schools are safer than the surrounding community, and if the school is safer than the surrounding community, keep the schools open.”
Cheryl Bost says teachers just became eligible to get vaccinated in the state, and right now if teachers return they would be putting their lives in jeopardy.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Policy Lab chief states that vaccine demands prior to returning to in-person is not supported by science.
Studies have found that masking and mitigation are what is required to keep schools safe. Experiments conducted by the Mayo Clinic and the University of Edinburg show that universal cloth or disposable masking reduces exposure to virus-laden respiratory droplets by over 99% -- even at close distances. Three-feet distancing rule is sufficient to curb spread. Short of HVAC improvements, opening a window only 3 inches will provide sufficient ventilation.
Maryland is in the top 15 states for spending per public school student. More frugal states have been able to successfully open their buildings with smaller budgets, therefore there is no reason why our districts cannot do the same. Montgomery county has spent $7 million on school reopening supplies and HVAC upgrades. Maryland has still only spent 40% of the coronavirus relief funds for schools that was provided in March and will be receiving another $780 million in the next round of stimulus.
Christina Duncan Evans, a representative in the Baltimore Teachers Union, said Hogan is asking teachers and school staff “to take a big risk with their lives and the lives of their families.”
When you are talking about people’s lives this isn’t a game. It isn’t a game when we’ve had several of our members die from COVID, “ says Theresa Dudley, President of the Prince George’s County Educators Association.
Despite surging cases and the emergence of a more transmissible variant, teachers in the UK, unlike restaurant workers and taxi drivers, were at no higher risk of death than the general population. Studies from Sweden, the Netherlands, and Norway draw similar conclusions from occupation-level breakdowns of hospitalization rates.
Studies out of Australia and South Korea show that test positivity rates and transmission frequencies remained low in schools even when local case rates were high, while another study of 11 million Britons, including elderly, showed that living with children attending school was not associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 outcomes.
Middle and high schools are also reopening with minimal student-to-student and student-to-staff spread, even amid states with elevated community rates. Schools in south Florida are open, with very little evidence of spread in schools, despite surging cases in the community. Tucson, Arizona, with a daily average nearing 100 new cases per 100,000, reports low transmission in schools. The CDC has similarly found low transmission in Mississippi schools, and additionally, those schoolchildren who were infected typically caught the virus elsewhere or attended schools with lax mask policies.
And one more fact: Remote education is a failure.
African American and Latino children from low-income families in Montgomery County are failing classes at five to six times the rate they did a year earlier, with only a minimal increase among White students.
Inside Higher Ed found that college applications for first-generation students and those eligible for application fee waivers were down 16 percent this year, with many colleges reporting a decrease in Latino and Black college applications.
A recent CDC report revealed pediatric emergency room visits related to mental health were up 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11 and 31 percent for children ages 12 to 17.
Eighteen students committed suicide in Clark County, NV.
Dr. Lavanya Sithanandam who runs a pediatric clinic for a primarily minority population in Montgomery County reports a 30% increase in depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation among her patients.
Millions of students and hundreds of thousands of teachers in the U.S. have returned to in-person instruction. Only a ¼ of U.S. students remain fully online, and more and more school districts recently announced dates for return. MCPS is becoming an outlier.