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WaPo: These Schools Refused to Shut Down for COVID, and Their Students Thrived

Richard Alan Hannon/The Advocate via AP

A leftover from earlier in the week, but an important and satisfying one.  Regular readers are well aware of my position on pandemic-related school closures and classroom mask mandates.  In short, closures and remote learning were justifiable in the earliest stages of the worldwide crisis -- spring 2020 -- but the data was more than clear by that summer and fall that children were overwhelmingly spared bad COVID outcomes, and that in-person instruction was safe.  And as more and more evidence emerged over that ensuing academic year, forced masking became less and less defensible.  The Washington Post has now profiled a school district in Colorado that followed the actual science, reporting that its health and educational outcomes were stellar. 


Before we quote the piece at length, a few thoughts on what it does not represent: It is not a cherry-picked outlier that bucked a wider trend or cut against evidence.  It is an illustration of the wider trend, exemplifying the evidence.  It is also not merely a vindication of our position, and a devastating rebuke of the needless harm inflicted upon millions of children by the pro-'Science' restrictionists, though it is certainly that.  The story told below must also serve as a searing, critical reminder that damaging, medically useless mitigation strategies must never be re-implemented during potential future COVID waves and outbreaks.  Enough harm has already been done.  This place, and many others, got it right (and were excoriated for it, in many cases), while much of the prevailing elite sentiment was wrong:

As school systems around the country were battening down for their first remote start-of-school in the fall of 2020, the Lewis-Palmer district here was embarking on another kind of experiment: Elementary students would be in class full time, sitting maskless at communal tables. The band program would resume in-person classes, saxophonists and flutists playing a few feet apart. The high school football teams would practice and compete. While most of the nation kept students at home for part or all of the last academic year, these schools in the suburbs of Colorado Springs, like thousands of others around the country, opened with the overwhelming majority of students in their seats. Masks were optional in elementary school. Although middle- and high-schoolers began with hybrid learning, in November, high school-aged students with significant special education needs were back in-person five days a week. In the country’s largest school systems, such as those in New York City, Los Angeles, D.C. and Chicago, teacher unions and concerned parents fought plans to reopen. Public health officials warned that social distancing would save lives, and schools responded by devising hybrid programs or simply sticking with virtual learning. But, over time, these measures also imposed costs: Today, students are contending with significant learning loss and mental health issues.

Let's review the subsequent outcomes, as opposed to the slogans and statement of opprobrium:

Thousands of school districts — typically small ones in conservative-leaning counties — reacted to the pandemic like Lewis Palmer District 38 did. Officials in this largely White and affluent school district of 6,600 students near the U.S. Air Force Academy argue they took the right approach to reopening schools. No child was hospitalized with the virus; two school system employees were admitted, though contact tracers did not determine where they contracted the virus, school officials said. And overall, results from standardized tests show that the average student in Lewis-Palmer made gains in reading. While they lost ground in math, they performed better than the average Coloradan. SAT scores remained steady...“We didn’t just exist through the pandemic,” said Mark Belcher, director of communications for the school district. “We made progress through the pandemic.”

This Colorado district "supported many early decisions with a July 2020 academic study that found that children under 10 didn’t transmit the virus at high rates, according to Superintendent K.C. Somers," according to the report. "The superintendent also saw early evidence emerging from Europe that showed it was possible to reopen schools with relatively few outbreaks." Again, this is adhering to real science and reams of data.  The piece says that some people view these results are lucky.  That's nonsense.  Open schools thrived all over the world during this pandemic.  These open schools were associated with mercifully few major outbreaks, hospitalizations or deaths.  And shielding children from closures, 'remote learning' failures, social isolation, and many other disruptions protected their wellbeing and certainly saved lives.  This district's decision to return to school -- with as much normalcy as possible, as soon as possible -- was driven by student's needs and parents' desires:

Like most of the nation’s school districts, Lewis-Palmer 38 abruptly closed its school buildings and sent students home on March 13, 2020. They learned online for the remainder of the academic year, and teachers quickly saw many students’ progress slow. Children struggled with the coursework and felt depressed and anxious, educators say. School system officials surveyed parents in July and determined that more than 60 percent said they were “very likely” to return to in-person learning. Fewer than 10 percent of families said they were “very unlikely” to return. More than 60 percent of teachers, who are not unionized, felt confident the school system could reopen schools safely; just 15 percent disagreed. So Lewis-Palmer 38 decided to reopen.

"Who are not unionized."  Relevant sentence fragment, in light of recent events.  The decision-makers concluded that in elementary schools, masks would only be required in hallways, not in classrooms. Why? Because "children wearing masks is not normal,” one district official told the Post.  They also adopted a fairly enlightened policy on vaccinations -- encourage, don't mandate:

About 65 percent of eligible residents in El Paso County are fully vaccinated — on par with the state’s vaccination rate. But school officials, teachers and parents said people in the school district rarely discuss their immunization status. Vaccination is not required to participate in any activity. “We felt it was an infringement on staff confidentiality to ask about their vaccination status,” Somers, the superintendent, said. But we did encourage vaccines.”

The story profiles one frustrated mother who wanted masks required for all students, in order to allow her son (with a serious co-morbidity) to return to the classroom, as well as a family for whom the open schools were a godsend for their daughter with Down Syndrome.  Individual cases aside, as important as they are to those affected, sound public policy maximizes good and minimizes harm, in the aggregate.  It's clear that education officials in Monument, Colorado got it right.  May their wisdom, and the stubborn wrongness of others, never be forgotten when formulating future policies.  I'll leave you with a reminder that it's not just children who've been grievously harmed by COVID restrictions:

And some Powers That Be still won't permit discussions of sensible risk assessment, based on real data, amplified by highly credible people.  There's something wrong with this system:

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