Expert: Reopening schools is a national emergency

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Private schools in California are reopening in person and even some public schools have opened with reduced capacity.

But State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond says that it may be January before we see widespread reopening of schools across the state.

“I’m deeply concerned. I think this is a national emergency. We’re facing the prospect that millions of kids will be out of school for a year or more,” said Dr. Joseph Allen, professor of environmental health at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and Director of the Healthy Buildings Program.

Speaking on KCBS Radio’s “Ask An Expert” program Friday, Dr. Allen said both parents and students are being harmed by the prolonged closures.

“We know we have virtual dropouts. We’re losing kids in the system. We know there are issues with neglect, exploitation, abuse, violence. Kids are sedentary, they’re not learning at the same rate,” he said. “There are some devastating and real consequences to having schools close.”

Dr. Allen says schools should have priority for reopening, ahead of sectors of the economy.

The good news is that the younger someone is, the less likely they are to contract or transmit the virus. If they do get the disease, they are less likely to have a serious case.

Of course, teachers, staff and students’ families need to be protected from the virus as well.

“We can actually protect against the risks in schools if we put in these prudent and practical risk reduction measures,” he said.

That means proper ventilation and filtration systems, mask wearing, distancing and sanitation. With adequate safety measures in place, Dr. Allen believes that kids could get back to something very close to regular learning and there would be less pressure on parents.

“We tend to think about risk in terms of what’s happened in the classroom with COVID, without the wider context of risk,” he said. “And that includes all of these severe consequences from schools being closed.”