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WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS?

Updated: Oct 12, 2020


July 12, 2020


School? Childcare? It's time to decide what to do about the kids this fall


One of the first things we heard, way back in the winter, was that kids weren’t really susceptible to coronavirus. Sure, they could catch it, but the CDC announced on April 10 that the likelihood of their getting seriously ill, much less dying, was slim. (Well, the same thing has been said about cats.) Schools closed en masse when everybody went into lockdown, but it seemed like it was more due to the logistical impossibility of getting kids to school when no one was leaving the house than to fears that they would get ill.


But now, like most other things about the virus, the whole school discussion is changing. And as American society re-opens (or tries to) (and also partially shuts down again in some areas), we are having to face a few facts. None are pleasant.


First, though kids remain only 2% of reported COVID cases worldwide, that translates to many thousands of kids. Ask any parent if a 2% infection rate, when the infection is a lethal virus, is low enough for them.


Photo: Seabass Creatives, Unsplash


Second, the let’s-educate-kids-remotely plan, though better than nothing, has turned out to be pretty bad for many, many families and kids. There were equipment shortages, there were technology-challenged teachers, there were stressed parents who couldn’t work remotely themselves while supervising the virtual class meetings of their kids. There was the great American class divide that enabled 4th-grade Jonny in upscale Connecticut to zip around the internet like a university researcher, while 9th grade Susie and her two brothers in rural Alabama took turns logging into the ancient computer their household shared.


There were frustrated teachers, bewildered administrators, kids who don’t get the daily school lunch that was sometimes the only meal they could count on all day. There were state tests postponed and listless, melancholy kids sitting in front yards missing their friends and teachers.



Yes, it was fun at times (the novelty, anyway, of not having to go to school — like one snow day after another). I live with a teacher and I saw how both she and the students tried hard to make it work. Sometimes it was funny, sometimes poignant. Stephanie started out each lesson with a daily jokes — the more of a groaner, the better (Q: “Who won the race, the lettuce or the tomato?” A: “Well, the lettuce was a head, but the tomato was trying to ketchup”). Hearing the kids’ laughter in our house was wonderful.


I do think it helped a lot of the kids to see Stephanie and their other teachers during a time when their worlds had turned upside down. I think school gave a constructive focus to their days, and hopefully gave their parents a break from thinking up activities for them.


But there’s no question, all kids lost ground academically in 2020. It will probably take a while before we know how much, and what the lasting effects of the COVID-19 disruption will be, but we already know they will be significant.


What’s even more disturbing is that no one seems to have solid recent statistics on anything about kids and the virus itself. Stats from March and April are unsatisfying, needless to say, especially since some were just guesses and estimates . But they’re still pretty much all we have.


That’s what you come across more than anything, online or in the news or even when consulting scientific studies like one done recently in Switzerland: “There’s so much we still don’t know.”


“So much we don’t know” is a familiar refrain when it comes to COVID generally, and may be even truer when it comes to kids.


So, being in the dark about who is transmitting the virus to whom — kids to each other, us to them, they to us? — we’re obviously ill-equipped to move forward and tackle questions like, now that the nation is re-opening (um, sort of), should they go to school or childcare?


Photo: Izzy Park, Unsplash


And if they don’t go anywhere, as was the case this spring, how will we adults ever re-start the economy?



Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, chair of the Appropriations Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, kept asking herself that very question. She recently sponsored the Childcare for Economic Recovery Act, which is intended to help parents tackle the problem — and by extension, help society, too.


The bill’s focus is primarily lower- and middle-income families, those who likely had childcare challenges even before the pandemic, and who now face a situation of sharply reduced supply.


With many providers still shut down, some permanently, and many workers in this sector unwilling to go back to their jobs because of the possibility that kids could be super-spreaders, America has a major childcare problem. In fact, from where I stand it looks like childcare could turn out to be the biggest stumbling block in society, since parents have to go back to work soon — if they haven’t already gone back.



I know a lot of parents are pinning their hopes on schools. But if they re-open this fall, it won’t be for a month, or even two or three. Three months of lost income is more than most households can handle. So — something has to be done about childcare, the sooner the better.


Not to mention, I haven’t heard a plan for re-opening schools yet … have you?



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