School closures put another generation at risk.
Amiddle another national peak in COVID-19, schools are closing again from coast to coast, and one thing is for sure: it is wreaking havoc over a generation.
Earlier this month, our governor here in Michigan ordered high school students to go 100% online; Likewise, hundreds of thousands of Kindergarten to Grade 12 students across the country are returning to distance learning at home even though in-person connection is key to academic success, according to many teachers.
As a mother of five, I am keenly aware that this decision increases the burden that our younger generation carries to fight a virus that rarely makes them sick. In addition, experts say that children do not drive the transmission of COVID-19, especially in schools. I wonder if Gen Z – the 56 million school-aged Americans who have suffered unrest and whipping since March – could one day be called by another name, “the COVID children”, because it seems more and more likely that this pandemic will define them irreversibly.
“The epidemic calls into question the resilience of vulnerable children because it increases the number of already existing risks in the children’s environment. . . and reduce the number of protection forces, ”said a report released in August by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. “The pandemic and the associated policy responses of containment and social distancing are affecting almost every part of the children’s world.”
Today, children are more vulnerable to loss of education, increased risk of family violence, loneliness, derailed trajectories, including higher drop-out rates, the Depression, suicide, and increased attacks from online sexual predators.
The spring should have been the canary in the mine, exposing the sudden paralysis of any in-person education from Kindergarten to Grade 12 as too dangerous to repeat. School losses alone – 15,000 students completely AWOL in Los Angeles, millions without high-speed internet access at home, and those who study online lose between three months and one year of apprenticeship – are unacceptable.
And yet, in August, the adults in power ignored the strong recommendation of the American Pediatric Association and the CDCand 74% of the 100 largest school districts went back to school online. It is now November and the schools that had worked so hard to provide protocol-laden in-person learning are closing their doors again, including those of Connecticut and Iowa.
Alexis Zieler, a high school science teacher in Michigan, told me that virtual high school is “a disaster” that only works well for very few students. Of her 35 students in virtual biology classes, 30 are struggling, she said. The responsibility and motivation she provides in spades in her classroom is gone. The same goes for its arsenal of creative teaching methods.
“There aren’t any varied learning styles in the virtual world at all,” Zieler says. “My student who is tied for promotion, she is really brilliant and a hard worker. She doesn’t get anything from these videos. This only works for students whose learning style is somewhat of a Goldilocks sweet spot. “
Jackie Hall, a mother of four in the California Bay area, told me that the virtual school for her eleven year old son who has an IEP for dyslexia makes her feel like a failure, and the online teachers offered no extra attention or help.
“At the end of the day it was a disaster,” Hall says. “His attitude towards everything was bad – it was heartbreaking. And every day he fell further and further back.
After two weeks of virtual schooling this fall, she took it out of school and is now homeschooling – “something I never thought I could do or do,” she says.
In northern Virginia, Veronika Cowen, a mom of four boys, told me that virtual elementary school was “awful”, especially for her kindergarten, which “refuses to work virtually.” Plus, Cowen’s goals as a parent were derailed.
“My biggest achievement as a modern day parent has been getting my boys out of the screening addiction. . . until now, ”she says. “Now I’m supposed to keep them staring at screens all day.”
These are common woes for dozens of parents I have spoken to who feel frustrated, blocked and angry. But these are also surface problems; the tummy of virtual learning and home isolation is much uglier.
Experts call pandemic a perfect storm for abusers and pedophiles, whose access to children in 2020 is unprecedented. Last month, the FBI and the Department of Justice issued a joint warning asking parents to wake up with “increased access to children” from predators, stating: “Parents don’t know all apps or how to use them , but sexual predators know it. They know where the children are and how to reach them. Law enforcement reports record levels of online child sex crimes around the world, including Scotland and Louisiana. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says a good rule of thumb for school-aged children, it is “the wait. . . that they are only connected with people they know in real life. “
But domestic violence can become too real for isolated virtual learners at home. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the stress of COVID “can stimulate violence in families where it did not exist before” and make adults more prone to abuse children, a problem made worse by the loss of resources and safety nets for parents since March. “In some families, COVID-19 creates a ‘pressure cooker’ situation in which family stress can reach toxic levels,” says the August OECD report. We think that a fifth of cases of abuse are noticed by teachers in schools, far from the children they have long tried to protect.
As Stanford University’s Dr Jay Bhattacharya wrote in November Specific:
In fact, what we are doing is forcing young people to shoulder the burden of controlling a disease for which they are at little or no risk. This is entirely backward from the right approach. . . . Current lockout policies [are] . . . leading to greater excess mortality in the years to come, with the working class and younger members of society bearing the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice. Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable harm, with disproportionate harm to disadvantaged people.
And here I feel disproportionately blessed. In the Pandemic Game of Life, my family drew the ticket to school in person. As I write, my fifth, third and first graders are in school, wearing their masks in real classrooms with teachers, blackboards, and friends. No screens. But we are certainly in the lucky minority.
What will happen in the years to come when the children of COVID take stock of the unfair sacrifices they were forced to make in 2020? I suppose they will form a generation filled with deep resentment. And I fear for all the ways that will manifest. One risk seems particularly high: Once the children of COVID are the adults in charge, their compassion for their elders – the baby boomers and millennials closing their schools right now – could be sorely lacking.