As the calendar turns to August, we are getting closer to that time of year when kids go back to school. In South Dakota, our kids will be in classrooms this fall. I met with both parents and superintendents earlier this week to discuss what that will look like, and everyone was on the same page that our children should attend school in-person.
I realize that this makes some folks nervous. I’d like to remind them that from day one, I committed to let the science, facts, and data drive our South Dakota’s response to COVID-19. And the science is clear – our schools need to be open.
Thankfully, when it comes to children, the virus doesn’t have a great impact on them. In fact, it’s even less dangerous than the flu. Studies suggest that kids are less likely to contract the virus and less likely to transmit it to others. I laid out this data in great detail in an op-ed published in The Federalist, which I would encourage you to read.
It is critical for our students’ well-being that our schools reopen. We know that children thrive on routine and being in supportive, social environments, and that the loss of human connections for many of these kids is driving increases in stress, anxiety, and depression. This is especially true for our most vulnerable students, particularly since not all kids are in safe home environments. For some students, school is the safest and most predictable place they spend their time.
Our kids need to learn, and they learn best in the classroom. Long distance learning got us through the initial crisis, but it is not a long-term solution. Initial nationwide research suggests that students will return to school in the fall with only 70% of learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year, and less than 50% in math. And one of South Dakota’s largest school districts self-reported that they lost contact with as many as 30% of their students when we went online. Think about that: some schools in our state haven’t heard from as many as a third of their kids since March. That cannot continue. Those kids are likely to fall behind, with lifelong consequences to their career opportunities and family life.
It’s important to remember that reopening schools will also impact the teachers, administrators, and support staff that work there. Fortunately, the science seems to suggest that teachers are unlikely to be infected by students. That means, the adults’ main health concern is protecting against transmission between themselves.
The vast majority of teachers and staff in South Dakota are not in the high-risk category. But some are, and they have many options available, such as social distancing, masking, and proper hygiene. If vulnerable teachers need to teach online classes to vulnerable students, that is certainly an option that is also available.
My goal as Governor is to make decisions that promote opportunities and security for our next generation. What we do today should be a catalyst for our young people to start businesses, invest in their communities, grow their families, develop their careers, and build a great quality of life.
Right now, the best decision we can make for our kids is to get them back into school. Their futures – and ours – depend on it.