Should schools reopen?

Schools are reopening, only to be shut down days later, or, in Indiana, on the first day of classes when a student tested positive.

Some schools are on hybrid plans, offering both remote learning and on-site instruction on rotating schedules. New York City will try this approach.

Some schools open, the community around them is deemed unsafe, and they’re closed back down despite a lack of positive cases within their classrooms. California parents are dealing with this confusion.

Some parents need their children back in school; some are terrified to send their kids.

Should schools reopen?

reopening for most schools starts with an analysis of “percent positivity”

The percent positivity is the percent of positive COVID cases out of all tests in a given community. This number is different than the number of reported cases of COVID because case number doesn’t indicate how prevalent infections are. Positivity is more relevant than the number of reported cases.

An example:

Let’s say 10 positive cases of COVID are detected. If only 20 people have been tested, and half (10) are positive, that means there should be a lot more testing because 50% of the people tested were positive. Now, if 10 positive cases of COVID are detected and 1000 have been tested (1% were positive), there is a much lower “percent positivity” and a much lower risk from the community.

You’re the superintendent. Low percent positivity is reached in your community. Should you reopen?


Kids should be in school. They always face a risk of sickness: seasonal flu, bronchitis, colds. There’s a risk of a car accident on the way to school. Choking on something while they’re there. We don’t keep kids home because there is risk; we evaluate whether the risk is acceptable. With studies indicating that young kids are less likely to get sick from COVID and less likely to spread it, we should do what it takes to keep teachers and administrators as safe as possible and get kids back to school.


Kids should be in school but only when the numbers indicate little community spread of the virus, and not because there is outside pressure on the decision. Whether, when and how to open should be decided by individual school districts without regard for the President’s threats of funding cuts, for example, if they don’t open.

Politics don’t belong in the decision. Unfortunately, political lean has been a factor in whether or not schools open.

The Brookings Institute looked at reopening plans for 256 school districts and compared it with data on the number of cases in the counties in which the schools were located to determine if there was any correlation between community spread and reopening plans. Then, they looked at the same school districts and compared their reopening plans with the county-level vote share for President Trump in the 2016 election.

Check out the graph.

There is no relationship between school districts’ reopening decisions and their county’s new COVID-19 cases per capita but a strong relationship between districts’ reopening decisions and the county-level support for Trump in the 2016 election.

That’s concerning.


Unfortunately, politics has entered literally every decision we make these days.

Maybe… school systems that successfully and safely reopen can become role models for the districts that hope to reopen. If school A is COVID free, they can create videos that show students wearing masks and social distancing while they’re in school. If we start the process of modeling good pandemic practices, those practices can spread–hopefully faster than the virus itself.

And, too many kids without WiFi and home computers and supportive caregivers are falling behind on learning.


Disparities in education in this country aren’t new (and desperately need addressing) but they are even more heart-breaking when you consider how completely left in the dark kids can be when they don’t have access to technology.

We can’t run programs that only help SOME kids.

Another problem in trying to evaluate the risk of sending kids back to school is that we don’t really understand all the risks because we don’t really understand the virus but also because we can’t be sure that our government is giving us accurate information.


You mean, that recent rule change out of the White House that ordered hospitals to send their COVID numbers to Washington rather than to the CDC? You mean, that seems a little like Vladimir Putin’s Russia?


The hydroxycholoroquine hype, the suggestion that the virus would disappear this summer, that anyone who needs a test can get a test, the lack of face mask policies, the assertion that kids are “virtually immune” to COVID–too many false statements have come from the President, adding to the confusion and distrust. Some parents believe the entire pandemic is a hoax! How do school systems address these incorrect and misleading statements coming from our leader?


Agreed. In order for parents to buy into the idea of sending their kids to school they need to understand the risk which means having full access to the information that is used to calculate the risk.


The problem then becomes: not everyone has the same level of risk. And how do you measure which risk is more important? Risk to health? Economic risk? Risk to future generations or risk to the elderly? Is your risk more important than my freedom? Is my freedom more important than your fear?

So. You’re the superintendent. What’re you going to do?


Get parents involved. Educate them on the risks. Try to find consensus. And then grab my tent and hide in the woods.


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