With the new school year underway, the vast majority of the nation’s public schools have welcomed children back into the classroom. Students, parents, and teachers are now working to address the significant learning losses that have occurred since 2020 as evidence grows that prolonged school closures were never necessary.
On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a subcommittee hearing to examine “COVD-19’s impact on children.”
Dr. Lee Beers, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, reiterated the AAP’s strong position favoring in-person learning, despite the ongoing concern about the Delta variant that is spreading more rapidly among children:
At this point in the pandemic, given what we know about low rates of in-school transmission when proper prevention measures are used, together with the availability of effective vaccines for those age 12 years and up, that the benefits of in-person school outweigh the risks in almost all circumstances.
During the hearing, Rep. Buddy Carter of Georgia asked Dr. Beers to revisit the AAP’s 2020 guidance and explain why so many school districts decided to ignore the pediatricians’ recommendations to reopen schools.
“I wish I knew the answer to that question in a lot of ways,” Dr. Beers explained, pointing out that many schools did not reopen and many others reopened without following the AAP’s safety recommendations. “As to why, there was a lot of fear and a lot of uncertainty. I wish that we had been able to come together more around being able to open schools safely and do the right thing for our kids.”
The Committee also heard alarming testimony from experts describing how the pandemic and its related effects have impacted American children.
Dr. Arthur C. Evans, Jr.. CEO of the American Psychological Association, testified that the pandemic has resulted in mental health crisis among American children:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data likewise indicate that between April and October of 2020, hospitals experienced a 24% increase in the proportion of mental health-related emergency department (ED) visits by children ages 5 to 11, as well as a 31% increase for adolescents ages 12 to 17. In a follow-up study, CDC found that, beginning in May 2020, ED visits for suicide attempts began to increase among adolescents ages 12 to 17, with visits 39% higher than during the same period in 2019.
Dr. Tracy Beth Høeg described the devastating consequence of prolonged school closures:
In the United States, unfortunately prolonged school closures have led to learning loss, isolation, obesity and mental health problems in children disproportionately affecting socioeconomically disadvantaged children. None of this appears to have spared them from the negative impacts of COVID-19 either. In my view, the United States’ single-minded, myopic approach to the pandemic has created a myriad of public health problems for children beyond that of COVID-19.
While states and school districts across the United States cannot reverse the unfortunate and unnecessary decision to close schools last year, they do have an opportunity to help American children begin to recover from prolonged school closures. A good place to start would be to use currently available federal emergency aid for K-12 education to provide direct financial support to parents and disadvantaged children.