It’s an encouraging sign that the Fargo School Board is preparing to consider recommendations to return all students to in-person instruction.
The school board at its Nov. 2 meeting will hear an advisory committee’s plan to return to the classroom. All students now are receiving a mix of in-person and remote instruction.
The preparations might seem counterintuitive, coming as they do while Cass County and North Dakota continue to cope with rapid transmission of the coronavirus. We are, as Gov. Doug Burgum recently observed, in the middle of a regional COVID-19 storm.
But, at least in Fargo, classroom transmission is rare. Last week, Fargo Public Schools reported 12 new positive cases among students and nine among staff. Altogether, 138 were out of school, including possible close contacts who were isolating.
Local experience has shown that schools aren’t super spreaders.
It’s important to note that children are less likely to become sick from the virus. A Harvard study cited research finding that susceptibility to the virus for those under the age of 20 is about half that for adults over 20.
In a Chicago study, only 1% of COVID-19 diagnoses were among children up to age 17.
Children infected by the virus, however, are less likely to develop symptoms — underscoring the importance of taking precautions, such as wearing masks, keeping safe distances, frequent hand washing and cleaning surfaces.
Teachers, paraprofessionals and other school staff are at risk, especially those who are older or have underlying health conditions. Also, there’s the risk that a student could bring the virus home and infect vulnerable family members, including grandparents.
So, to repeat: It will be critical for teachers and administrators to enforce mask requirements and other safety measures to guard against these possibilities.
There are indications that one of the biggest risks for the virus spread in schools is in lunchrooms, not in classrooms. Also, school officials believe much of the transmission happens in households — in Cass County, community spread is by far the biggest factor, followed by close contact and household contact.
But school officials are making these preparations knowing that keeping students out of school for such prolonged periods is detrimental to educational performance. Kids do much better when they’re in a classroom.
The costs of this prolonged pandemic are staggering, and won’t be fully accounted, if at all, until the greatest public health crisis in more than a century is finally behind us. But one of the significant human costs surely will be the loss in educational attainment by students who couldn’t adapt well to extended periods of remote learning.
Schools, we know, also provide critical support services for students and serve as an important place for important social interactions.
As Fargo North High Principal Andy Dahlen said, we’re doing our students a disservice by keeping them out of the classroom. He compared schools to a lifeline for many students.
The Fargo School Board should scrutinize the recommendations carefully, but should remember the many benefits — to students, families and the community — of getting them safely in the classroom.