Reopening schools should be Anchorage’s top priority

On Nov. 20, World Children’s Day, UNICEF released a report detailing the negative effects of COVID-19 on children throughout the pandemic. One section was devoted to schools. The conclusion: There is no consistent association between school reopening status and community rates of COVID-19, and children are more likely to get COVID-19 outside of the school setting.

Yet in Anchorage, as in many U.S. communities, public schools remain virtual-only and reopening continues to be the target of delays to help lower community transmission rates. This is in contrast to European countries, where in-person learning is prioritized, sometimes amidst higher rates of COVID-19 than in Alaska.

The cost of keeping public school buildings closed is staggering. While some children are thriving online, many are not. School closures force many children into unmitigated informal childcare arrangements, potentially increasing community transmission. A newly released study in the Journal of American Medical Association estimates that primary school closures in the early months of the pandemic resulted in more life lost than had school buildings simply remained open.

The question of how we have allowed this to happen – for public school buildings to be shuttered at great societal cost, when there is not consistent evidence that they worsen community spread of COVID-19 – is one we should all be asking. Of course, the logistics of keeping schools open amidst staffing shortages and heightened safety requirements are a real challenge. But these challenges can be overcome, if our community leaders work together and agree on the goal.

Finding a way to reopen public school buildings, just as private schools, bars, restaurants and gyms have been open, should have been a priority for leaders on both sides of the aisle throughout the fall. Why have so many been oppositional or silent regarding this issue? Before another reopening date gets postponed or cancelled, let’s come together as a community to support our public schools and make safe in-person learning an option for every child. Their lives depend on it.

Allie Phillips Moe, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, is an Anchorage parent, health care worker, and daughter of two public school teachers who is passionate about children’s health and education.

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