There has been breathless coverage of the pros and cons of reopening schools during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Most of that debate has centered primarily on safety, or the lack thereof, of students and staff in regard to COVID-19.
One aspect of the debate that’s been woefully underdiscussed, however, is the more human angle when it comes to reopening schools.
That human aspect was perfectly captured in an article published Monday by The New Yorker.
In a deeply personal article titled “The Students Left Behind by Remote Learning,” author Alec MacGillis wrote about the myriad of issues people seem to be ignoring when discussing the reopening of schools.
The article opens with a lengthy look into “Shemar” (the author referred to the child by his middle name), a 12-year-old student suffering from several personal issues, all of which are exacerbated by remote learning.
Shemar’s mother suffered from drug addiction, and the two of them would move often. Shemar himself was often exhausted for school, but the the classroom still provided a much-needed respite from the doldrums of real life.
When remote learning began in early April in Baltimore, Shemar was left almost hopelessly unprepared. The truncated lessons, the lack of technology and reliable internet, and being sequestered in less-than-savory neighborhoods are not exactly conducive to an adolescent’s academic growth or mental well-being.
But the most sobering thing to remember about Shemar’s struggles is how profoundly not unique his situation must be.
“Society’s attention to [children like Shemar] has always been spotty, but they had at least been visible—one saw them on the way to school, in their blue or burgundy uniforms, or in the park and the playground afterward,” MacGillis wrote. “Now they were behind closed doors, and so were we, with full license to turn inward. While we dutifully stayed home to flatten the curve, children like Shemar were invisible.”
The article covers a variety of other topics, including the ramifications of teachers having felt a “loss of purpose” thanks to remote learning, but there’s clearly a reason the article begins with Shemar’s tale: Shemar’s plight is not even close to being unique to him.
Could there be costly health repercussions if schools reopen? Certainly.
But there absolutely are mental, health, and developmental repercussions for children if schools don’t reopen.