Back in May, I wrote a piece
for the Baltimore Sun lamenting the closure of schools in my home state of Maryland. I remained hopeful for the fall, but now Maryland seems to have moved five-day-per-week school into a third-stage "high risk" category that includes events at large entertainment venues. This decision has no rational basis.
What follows is the public comment I submitted to the school board after it announced that students will attend only two days per week. It's a bit of a rush-job, but I think it gets the main points across:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Board’s plan
for school re-opening. As a father of two school-age children, I respectfully ask that you consider a more normal school schedule – five days
per week, with no masks required for children
In reading through the guidelines published by the state and
the county, I am concerned that the Board
may be so focused on logistics that it has lost sight of the big-picture
evidence. I will try to summarize that evidence here:
are far less susceptible to COVID-19.
The rate of school-age
Marylanders who have been hospitalized
COVID-19 is less than six in 100,000, compared to 480 in 100,000 among the
elderly. Moreover, out of the 3,202 Marylanders whose deaths have been
attributed to the virus as of July 14, only one
– a 15-year-old in Baltimore
-- was under the age of 20.
Children are also less likely to
spread the virus to others. The evidence “consistently demonstrates reduced
infection and infectivity of children in the transmission chain,” according
to The Royal
College of Pediatrics and Child Health in the United Kingdom. Reports from
Denmark and Sweden find
that teachers are not at a high risk of exposure compared to other occupational
closures have minimal effect on viral spread.
“Currently, the evidence to support national closure of schools to combat
COVID-19 is very weak,” according to a recent review
in The Lancet, which went on to note that “school closures could have
relatively small effects” given the characteristics of COVID-19.
“We found no evidence that school closures influenced the growth rate in
confirmed COVID-19 cases,” according to a more recent study
in Health Affairs.
schools are especially safe.
Schools have opened
in Europe with little problem. Some isolated outbreaks have occurred in
secondary schools, but not elementary schools. If school attendance must be
restricted, the restrictions should be on the upper grades only. I can think of
no reason why elementary students should be subject to the same rules as high
can go to indoor gyms, children can go to school.
the evidence above, it is entirely inappropriate to classify five-day school as
a third-stage “high risk” activity on par with events in large entertainment
venues. A group of 20 to 30 children in a classroom is simply not comparable to
thousands of adults crowded together indoors. Even second-stage “medium risk”
activities that are currently allowed, such as indoor fitness classes, are
likely to be far more risky than operating a classroom five days per week.
Masks are uncomfortable, distracting, and potentially dangerous if not worn
properly and cleaned regularly. More importantly, schools are social
environments where children learn to interact with each other. Masks block that
key interchange by concealing facial expressions. “Face masks are not required
or recommended for children returning to school,” according to official guidance
from the Hospital for Sick Children.
virus situation has improved since early summer.
Since the Board made its decision
on June 17 to pursue a two-day-per-week plan, hospitalizations for COVID-19
have dropped from 702 to 415. ICU beds devoted to COVID-19 patients have fallen
by more than half, from 283 to 118. Positive test rates are now consistently
under 5 percent. In short, the state has become far better equipped to contain
the virus than it was earlier in the summer.
School plans should be adjusted to reflect this progress.
be more open than the average Maryland county.
As a low-density, semi-rural
county, Calvert is naturally less susceptible to viral spread than other parts
of Maryland. The mortality rate here is 4.5 times lower than the state as a
whole. The 11 Calvert residents who have died with COVID-19 were all age-55 or
over and had “at least
one chronic health condition
I understand that you are bound
to some extent by state guidelines. However, the Roadmap to Recovery advises
that “some regional (or county-by-county) approaches may be contemplated as the
recovery moves forward.” The Board should try to work with the state to develop
a more flexible policy on school re-openings for the less-risky counties.
mix together anyway on non-school days.
Many children will attend daycare
on the days that they do not go to school. At daycare they will mix with
children who are not part of their two-day school rotation group, reducing the
effectiveness of the split-week approach for viral containment.
Again, thank you for your consideration of these points.