Should Schools Stay Open Despite Increase in Omicron Cases?

Eliana Linder

The new omicron variant has hit the United States creating a state of panic across the nation and forcing more COVID-19 policies to be put back in place and strictly enforced. Omicron has affected everyone and all aspects of life whether it be from school to work have been affected by the worse. Schools all over the world are beginning to shut down due to this new variant negatively affecting the student’s education system, causing kids to fall behind the learning curve. There is no doubt that schools should stay open during these uncertain times to continue the education of all ages.

As a country, we have learned from our past mistakes from closing schools down for an extended amount of time and attempting to conduct school through zoom during the spring of 2020. When schools reopened in September of 2020 teachers and administrators noticed that kids were not meeting the proper educational standards. Many studies have suggested school zoom was not effective at teaching students and they were not as receptive in comparison to learning in schools. A study back in December of 2020 released by McKinsey and Company supports this theory and continues to say that the effects of online learning are even more prominent in minority groups. Using the Curriculum Associates i-Ready platform to analyze data from recent autumn report cards of 2020 they found that, “students in their sample learned only 67 percent of the math and 87 percent of the reading that grade-level peers would typically have learned by the fall,” this equates to about 3 months of not learning at all, which is about the same time that most schools closed for during spring of 2020. 

It is clear that this is causing students to fall behind academically but new studies show it is also negatively affecting children’s mental health. School is not only a place for learning, but it is also a place where many students get their main social interaction from. If you take away these kids’ school it negatively impacts students’ communication and social skills. Additionally, sitting in front of a screen all day and attempting to learn is mentally draining. Different studies show that students are actually more tired after a day of online school instead of a day of in-person school: this can be referred to as “zoom fatigue”. Zoom fatigue is due to students’ brains working increasingly harder to process cues, whereas in school non-verbal cues such as eye contact and body language which are almost impossible to interpret on zoom. 

In addition, according to the CDC 1 in 6 children have been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder and according to studies students with mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder experience the negative effects of zoom more intensely. Many mental disorders include having difficulty paying attention for long periods of time, like ADHD and studies have shown that it is much more difficult to pay attention online. A study done at Lehigh University by George DuPaul displays this and he also states that, “They are already at risk of academic difficulties, peer relationship problems, and other mental health issues. Distance learning is an accelerator of these existing challenges.” Going to school with a mental health disorder can have its own challenges but online learning just makes it much harder.

Lastly, studies have shown that due to online learning and children staying home instead of going to school it has increased the gender pay gap. One of the biggest factors of the gender pay gap is the stereotype that mothers should be at home and take care of the children, this can be referred to as the “motherhood penalty”. Since children are no longer in school it means that one of the parents needs to be home taking care of them, which means that they can’t be working. Through recent studies it shows that women are twice as likely to take care of the children at home in contrast to the male partner. According to recent studies we can see that COVID-19 “has increased the gender gap by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years”(World Economic Forum). Increasing the gender pay gap is just one of the many negative effects that schools closing has had, and will continue to do if schools are closed again.
To conclude, COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of life but it is pertinent that we prevent it from affecting education systems across the US. The closing of schools comes with many unseen detrimental consequences across the board that can be easily prevented by simply continuing in-person education. In order to do this, it is important to do as much as possible to keep COVID cases down by doing your part in respecting COVID protocols in your local area.