- - Monday, July 13, 2020

The coronavirus lockdown has prevented the nation’s children from enjoying many of the typical joys of summer. Fear of letting the virus spread has shuttered summer camps, closed beaches and other amusements, limited access to community pools and parks, and left teenagers jobless, idle and liable to get into mischief.

Hopefully, the picture will be brighter by the time schools open in the fall — if they open at all. That’s the debate right now, with many political and union leaders arguing they shouldn’t. At least not right away and not on a regular five-day a week schedule. Among the reasons they cite are the impracticability of complying with the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends, for example, that students maintain a distance of six feet from one another in the classroom to lessen the threat that COVID-19 will spread.

This is nonsense, nonsense that ignores the science. Any reliable analysis of mortality and infection shows that the under-18 population is highly resistant to the disease. If they do contract it, they are highly likely to survive. Those most in danger of catching an extreme case and dying from it remain those over the age of 60.

The guidelines are important but, despite CDC Director Robert Redfield saying Wednesday they are written to help schools open there are plenty of state and local administrators, prodded along by union leadership and frightened parents interpreting them as a reason to, at best, go to a modified schedule.

That’s not fair to kids and it’s not fair to their parents. Children must learn. Many parents must go to work. Keeping them home part of the time or all the time — and counter to the science that shows schools can be opened safely — would only exacerbate the social and economic costs families have already paid during the summer of lockdown.

All schools should be mandated by the governors of their states to prepare to open as planned and on a regular schedule. They should also offer options like video classes that make it possible for parents who choose to keep their children home out of fear of exposure to coronavirus to do so. That seems to be the fairest way to go about things, but options need to be available, especially for those parents and children who live in communities where the government-run schools only offer a modified program.

It has been reported the White House is preparing to issue its own guidelines on schools reopening because the president and those who attended a recent listening session with him expressed so many concerns about what the CDC was doing. And the nation’s governors could order the schools as they have year-in and year-out for decades but that would end up in court and not be settled before late August or early September when most kids head back.

There was never any justification in the science for closing the schools. It never should have happened. But, despite Dr. Redfield’s repeated claims the CDC never recommended school closures, its recommendations were used as justification for what the politicians and administrators decided to do. Call it the triumph of fear over reason if you like but the way those who run the government schools responded was a disgrace. Keeping them closed — or even on a modified schedule — will affect the ability of parents to go to work, leave children in an environment where they are not learning to their full potential and, amazingly and ironically, put them in environments where the possibility of their exposure to COVID-19 may rise rather than remain stable or fall.

In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Espinoza, which declared the century-and-a-half bans on state support for religious education unconstitutional, President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos should work with governors so-inclined to set up scholarship funds for parents who need assistance paying for private or parochial education in schools operating on the five-day-per-week education in the classroom schedule. The money for this could come initially from the federal school aid the president is threatening to withhold from schools that do not open fully and on time, apportioned to the states based on what each one spends per year per student on public education. States could kick in their own money to the fund which, in a perfect world, would be able to take contributions from corporations and private individuals who want to support the efforts of parents to ensure their children receive a good education.

It’s a radical idea, one that will boost school choice programs everywhere they exist and create a demand for more, but one whose time has come. If the government-run schools won’t open, then parents must have viable options for sending their children elsewhere.

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