The arguments in favour can be categorized in three areas: a seemingly low infection rate among children; the need for childcare to allow parents to return to the workforce; and, a general restlessness among families to try and move things back to be closer to normal.
Social isolation is not a natural state for children. There are legitimate concerns that lack of peer contact and the tight restrictions on the ability to play, explore, and collaborate together might have a long-term developmental impact on them. In addition, as time has gone by, there has been a growing discussion about the impact of remote schooling on learning.
Education is, in general, a very egalitarian process. In theory, any student coming to school has access to the same instruction, resources, technology, and support as their peers. Even though, as we know, this is not totally always the case, trying to replicate the school experience in thousands of different home environments has definitely laid bare the inequities in opportunity that teachers witness every day. Remote learning experiences can vary for a number of factors: family dynamic; access to technology and internet connection; and competing responsibilities for work, sibling care, etc.
So, when you put all those factors together, reopening seems like a no brainer - but it isn't.
Setting aside all of the theories, models and speculation about how a return to school would work, the fact of the matter is that nobody actually has a clue! In a desire to reopen the economy, governments see schools as a problematic sticking point. Unlike the world that I grew up in during the 50s, schools are the primary caregiver in most families. And, without that caregiver, it is extremely difficult for people to go back to work. So, school re-openings are seen as the tipping point for a return to normal.
But, in spite of the proclamations of pundits, and political leaders, and "experts", this virus still remains a mystery and a return to school is a massive societal crap shoot. No matter how the adults strategize about it, young kids cannot maintain physical distancing. You can limit attendance, you can spread people out, you can regiment hand-washing and desk sanitizing, but still people are going to socially spread the virus. And, while it may turn out to be true that children are not seriously affected by the contagion, they will invariably share it with their teachers, tutors, and the adults in their homes. Everyone knows this, but nobody knows what the heath impact will actually be until it happens. So, in this case, children and educators will become the canaries in the coal mine. Not until they start dropping will we know what's happening.
Last week the Mayor of Las Vegas was interviewed on CNN where she advocated the reopening of all of the casinos. In a rambling account of how the economy had to reopen, she was asked about the potential health risk to customers and workers. The exchange then went like this: The mayor then asserted that if businesses reopen and then collapse when they become a source of COVID-19 and infect their customers, well, that’s just the free market at work.
“That’s the competition in this country,” she said. “The free enterprise, and to be able to make sure that what you offer the public meets the needs of the public.”
Some days, when I hear politicians and economists advocate for the quick reopening of schools, her voice just echos in my head. We are in a crisis, but you don't get out of it by potentially sacrificing one group to serve the needs of another. We don't want our kids and our teachers to become the canaries in our pandemic coal mine.