Opinion: Trump’s Reopening Plans For Schools Are Completely Unsubstantiated by Science

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

“Schools must be open in the Fall. If not open, why would the Federal Government give Funding? It won’t!!!”

On July 10, President Trump lividly tweeted this message to threaten schools to reopen in the fall. At the time of writing, there are 3.97 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, 144,000 related deaths, and a drastic resurgence in cases around the country. Yet our president still declares students should return to schools where they will be exposed to hundreds or thousands of potentially infected classmates. Not to mention the millions of teachers nationwide that will have to risk their lives everyday just to simply perform their jobs.

In response, teacher unions around the nation have been taking action against Trump’s reopening plans. In Connecticut, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), an organization for teachers in the state, has released its own plan for reopening schools in the fall. The “CEA’s Safe Learning Plan” calls for “recognizing and addressing the risks for students, teachers, and staff in school during a pandemic.” In Florida, teachers have even gone to the extreme of suing the state to block an order mandating schools to reopen with face-to-face learning.

The Trump administration’s main reason for advocating for such a controversial and risky scenario comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In late June, the AAP released a statement that “strongly recommends children [to] resume in-person classes in the fall.” Following this guidance, the presidential administration has aggressively employed this recommendation to justify the reopening of schools.

However, it is evident that the criteria needed by the AAP to responsibly make such a pivotal statement were not met. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there is simply not enough existing data on the virus to make a definitive statement about youth returning to the classrooms.

However, Trump continues to justify his contentious remarks. “Virtual learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning,” he tweeted. However, these claims are completely unsubstantiated and, in fact, scientific research demonstrates the opposite. According to IBM, participants in online learning courses learn up to five times more than in face to face courses. This study is corroborated by a research team, including scientists from MIT and Harvard, who found that the amount learned in an online course was greater than that learned in a traditional lecture-based course.

Due to the freedom and control online courses provide students with their own learning, students are able to learn at their own speed. This, in turn, allows them to take in and retain more information. In addition, one of the limiting factors to face to face courses is that they struggle to retain students throughout the entire year. On the contrary, virtual learning has increased student retention rates from 25% in certain scenarios to 60%, according to the Research Institute of America, a nonpartisan behavioral and social science research, evaluation, and technical assistance organization.

Lastly, due to the prominent time commitment an in-person education takes out of the day, many find it hard to incorporate other chores, jobs, or activities into the day. The immense time investment of traditional learning includes commuting to school, waiting for tutors and other students, and transitioning between classes. However, according to Brandon Hall, a premier research and analyst firm, and research supported by Google, the National Science Foundation, and MIT, virtual learning requires 40-60% less participation time than a traditional classroom environment, making e-learning an attractive alternative for the fall. Even though quarantine may severely limit extracurricular and job opportunities, students will be able to use this extra valuable time to perform essential household chores or care for younger siblings.

At an extremely volatile stage of the pandemic, it is important that school districts take adequate safety measures in ensuring the health of their students. Unfortunately, only 2 out of the country’s most prominent 10 districts have achieved the agreed upon public health goal to reduce the average daily infection rate among those tested to below 5%; it’s imperative that other districts fall in line to mitigate the detriments of COVID-19 on youth. A few of America’s largest school systems, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Maryland’s largest district, Montgomery County, and Virginia’s largest county, Fairfax County, are all rejecting the president and starting the year with virtual learning.

In the era of COVID-19, a once-in-a-lifetime scenario for many around the globe, it is essential that nations proceed with caution in all of their actions. In Donald Trump’s presidential term, his baseless claims foster conflict around the country over issues made even more pivotal due to the pandemic. Rather than returning to school as President Trump has fervently tweeted, students must remain wary of the unprecedented risks of COVID-19 and implement measures to social distance. Even if it means participating in virtual learning, which has proven to be an effective method of learning. For students who may require extra attention or focus in the classroom, a hybrid system that incorporates a mix of virtual and in-person, but social-distanced, learning would be an effective option to remain safe and still receive the attention they need.