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Is it Safe to Reopen Schools?

March 11, 2021
An Extensive View of the Research

Presented by: The Evidence Project at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, COVID Collaborative, United States of Care, CRPE, Opportunity Labs, American Enterprise Institute and the Walton Family Foundation

One year after nationwide public school closures, a growing body of medical research and the firsthand experiences of school systems worldwide can provide a sound basis for determining a reopening strategy. This report examines the collective findings of more than 130 studies and considers their implications for current decisions. These studies cover a wide array of topics, including risks for children, transmissibility concerns, and the impact of school reopenings on community spread.

Key Findings
The cumulative body of research provides answers we did not have a year ago and also provides a roadmap for how to safely and resume in-person instruction:

  • The vast majority of research from around the world suggests that children comprise a small proportion of diagnosed COVID-19 cases, develop less severe illness, and have lower mortality rates.
  • Studies suggest attending school does not increase risk to children, particularly if health protocols are followed.
  • Evidence points to schools mirroring the transmission rates of their communities. Schools themselves do not appear to drive community transmission. High school students are more likely to contract and spread infection, but there is considerably less risk in grade school children.
  • Protective measures such as mask wearing, physically distancing, increasing hygiene regimens, and improving ventilation add layers of protection that can mitigate risks for students and school staff.
  • COVID-19 vaccinations, symptomatic testing and isolating potentially infected individuals, and asymptomatic COVID-19 screening tests offer additional preventive benefits.
  • Any public health benefit gained from school closures must be weighed against the significant—and potentially lasting—costs imposed on individual students and society as a whole.
  • A growing body of research suggests children face greater health risks due to missed health screenings, food insecurity, and mental health challenges.
  • Severe learning loss for many children, particularly children of color, will lead to lower educational attainment and lower future earnings.

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