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Clearing more hurdles — this time with parents — to get kids back in school

A recent national survey found that almost 7 in 10 parents fear their children’s education and social development are suffering because of remote learning.

In this Jan. 11, 2021, file photo, pre-kindergarten students listen as their teacher reads a story at Dawes Elementary in Chicago.
In this Jan. 11, 2021, file photo, pre-kindergarten students listen as their teacher reads a story at Dawes Elementary in Chicago.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia | Sun-Times

What will it take to get more children back in classrooms?

We’re asking ourselves that because of a new poll that found 69% of parents nationally are concerned that their children’s learning and social development are suffering because of remote learning during the pandemic.

That’s no surprise. Virtual learning is a distant second to in-person teaching. Yet in Chicago, and in other parts of the country where schools have reopened, fewer than half of the students are back in their classrooms.

Clearly, most parents are still wrestling with their fear of COVID-19, as the poll from the Associated Press/University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy also found: 64% of parents are concerned about the greater spread of coronavirus due to in-person schooling.

We get it. The pandemic is far from over, the country is nowhere near herd immunity — just under 17% of the population has been vaccinated — and Chicago and other places are seeing an alarming resurgence of COVID-19.

But we want to say this once again: Top scientists from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and elsewhere have concluded in an abundance of studies that schools are not a major source of COVID-19 infection when safety protocols — masking, physical distancing, frequent hand-washing, good ventilation — are in place.

And as several parents told us, seeing the rigorous precautions being taken at their children’s schools made all the difference.

“We saw uncontrolled transmission in the community. The numbers were too high, and it seemed too unmanageable, so initially I was nervous,” Ruchi Sharma, parent of a Chicago second-grader, told us. “But now I see [plastic] shields in the classroom, other equipment in place. It does give me a sense of safety.”

The deadline for Chicago Public Schools families to choose in-person learning for the final months of the school year has passed. We urge CPS and local schools to accommodate those parents who change their mind in the coming weeks.

There’s time, we think, to help parents like Shannon Goodwin see their way to opting-in, now or perhaps during an expanded summer school program. The federal government is mandating that districts spend part of an overall $129 billion in stimulus money to offer summer school or other programs to address learning loss as a result of the pandemic.

“I’ve seen Dr. [Anthony] Fauci say kids should go back to school, that kids don’t spread [the virus],” said Goodwin, who hasn’t sent her daughter back because of scheduling issues as well as health concerns. “I know she needs to be in school.”

The sooner the better, for millions of kids still stuck at home.

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