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On virus, too many LA schools stuck on stupid

At least a number of Louisiana policy-makers, some later to the party than others, are choosing not to stay stuck on stupid when dealing with the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, school superintendents asked both Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to revise their rules regarding schools and the virus. They question the BESE decision that students exposed to another student who tests positive for the virus must then stay away from school for 14 days. In many, but not in all cases, they can access online learning in the interim.

Joining the plea made to the House of Representatives Health and Welfare Committee by several district leaders, state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley argued later that the state should adopt the procedures used by Missouri, where only students who are sick or test positive must isolate, as long as all students in close contact were wearing masks – which Louisiana schools require. Brumley agreed with several district superintendents that learning outcomes suffer the fewer in-person classroom days a child has.

However, he expressed willingness to kowtow to the existing rule, even though hardly any quarantined students have turned up sick. Fortunately, that rule may change to 7-10 days as the science on the matter evolves.

If only some Louisiana policy-makers would listen to all the science, or at least not so selectively as determined by their political agendas. Edwards’ politicized heavy-handed approach, even as he and his Department of Health mandarins and legislative supporters ironically allege this follows it, has disregarded science time after time. This issue is no exception.

Even as the quarantine rule asserts to prevent further infectious outbreaks and the attendant risk to health that might follow, the evidence shows this concern is almost entirely a mirage. Sweden has kept its 16-and-below-year-olds in school throughout the tenure of the pandemic, while it let out for online instruction its 17- and 18-year-olds for two months in the spring. It didn’t even mandate physical distancing or face coverings in the schools.

Comparing the two groups, while parents of the older children were somewhat more likely to catch the virus, they were no more likely than others to suffer more than trivially for it. Teachers of the older children were twice as likely to contract it, but less likely than their parents, and almost none were hospitalized by it. And, perhaps needless to say, few children were outwardly affected and none died.

The experience of New York City schools mirror this. In them, the infection rate since they reopened there – now closed again – was a whopping 0.2 percent.

Additionally, other research has started to document more side effects of holding children out of in-person instruction. More online time is associated with increased risk of family violence and sexual predation.

By contrast, already the research has demonstrated for elementary and secondary education, with the impact becoming more pronounced the younger the child, the absence of in-person class learning has immediate and significant setbacks for children’s learning. The effect magnifies among children from household with fewer resources, disproportionately among black and Hispanic families.

Yet some Louisiana superintendents want to repeat this mistake. Recently, Lafayette schools took a step backwards by reinstituting a hybrid model that has children going to class half the time and the other half looking in online. Some schools in East Baton Rouge, Caddo, and Lafourche have gone entirely online, citing too many infections. Most stupidly, St. Helena now requires all students receive a negative test or face quarantining for two weeks.

Education leaders need to halt following the heavy-handed approach advocated by Edwards and instead follow the social and hard sciences. Sending home only the infected from classrooms properly distanced and closing off in-person instruction only under the most drastic conditions are the appropriate steps. Otherwise, they’re just staying stuck on stupid.

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