I have never seen two children so happy to go to school. When in-person teaching resumed in New York City in early October, my 5- and 7-year-old skipped, ran, and bounced the four blocks to their elementary school. There were none of the usual morning complaints (“My bag is too heavy!” “I don’t wanna do computer class!”). They were simply delighted that, after nearly seven months of being stuck at home and enduring endless glitch-plagued Zoom lessons (see Technology), they were finally going to be back in a real classroom with other kids. Incredibly, their good mood kept up over the following weeks. My son and daughter didn’t moan about having to wear face masks in class all day or the social-distancing rules that meant they couldn’t sit at a table with their friends. Instead, they came home bubbling with stories about what they’d done and learned that day.
Then it all came to an end. With Covid-19 rates climbing, the city closed public schools last week and education was once again confined to a computer screen. There appears to be little science to justify such shutdowns (see Controversy). Schools that implement coronavirus mitigation strategies aren’t disease hot spots: About 3.1 percent of Covid tests in NYC are now coming back positive, but the positivity rate in public schools before the latest closures was a mere 0.2 percent. Meanwhile, the harms caused by school shutdowns are clear: They widen the learning gap between poor kids without computers and their richer peers, and deprive all children of the chance to build vital social skills. But officials know they’ll get less blowback for closing schools than for shuttering the bars, restaurants, gyms, and other indoor gathering spaces that are actually fueling the latest Covid spikes. With no new federal stimulus package on the horizon, a shutdown would be a death sentence for those businesses, and mayors and governors would shoulder the blame. Barrooms, we’ve decided, are more important than classrooms.