Adriana Cohen: Give teachers priority for COVID-19 vaccinations so schools can reopen

We can't allow millions of children to continue to be isolated at home staring at computer screens all day

Now that COVID-19 vaccines are expected to soon become available, governors nationwide must prioritize vaccinating teachers so America's schools can reopen without delay.

We simply cannot allow millions of children to continue to be isolated at home staring at computer screens all day. Remote learning is harming their physical and mental health, while denying them a quality education.

The attempt to protect our nation's children during the pandemic is doing more harm than good.

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Let's start with the obvious: Children staring at computer screens while being sedentary six to eight hours a day increase their risk of getting diabetes and a host of other deadly diseases.

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"Study results have demonstrated associations of prolonged sitting time with premature mortality (1-3); chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer (4-7); metabolic syndrome (5,6); and obesity (5,7)," in adults, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Similar negative health consequences could be affecting children as well.

A 2015 study published by the National Institutes of Health found: "The consequences of excessive sedentary behavior are not well understood in the child, but there is growing evidence that with increasing sedentary time, cardiovascular risk in childhood also increases. ... Our findings show that a 3 (hour) period of uninterrupted sitting causes a profound (33%) reduction in vascular function in young girls."

President Trump was correct when he warned repeatedly that we must not let the cure be worse than the disease with respect to mitigating the novel coronavirus.

That's just the physical toll that school closures and lockdowns are having on America's kids. What about the mental health effects on our youth?

If the spike in Emergency Department hospital visits over the past six months is any indication, then our nation's children are in serious trouble.

"Beginning in April 2020, the proportion of children's mental health-related ED (Emergency Department) visits among all pediatric ED visits increased and remained elevated through October," a recent CDC study found. "Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health-related visits for children aged 5-11 and 12-17 years increased approximately 24% and 31%, respectively." 

You read that right. School closures and lockdowns have resulted in a 24% to 31% surge in mental illness in once-healthy children. Hence, President Trump was correct when he warned repeatedly that we must not let the cure be worse than the disease with respect to mitigating the novel coronavirus.

The president’s sensible calls to reopen schools should not go ignored to assuage the self-serving interests of teacher unions.

With respect to academics and how remote learning is failing students, the receipts are in; too many students, coast to coast, are failing school or dropping out altogether.

Massachusetts, a place once lauded for its institutions of higher learning, is getting a failing grade — or shall we say "no grade" — because more than 37,000 students have dropped out of public school thanks to school closures.

Among 400 school districts in Massachusetts, there's been a decrease in 37,396 students for the 2020-21 school year as of Oct. 1. That's a 3.9% decrease in enrollment compared to last year, officials announced during a recent Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting.

This type of alarming dropout rate is happening all over the country, putting our nation's youth at risk.

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Failing grades are another distressing trend we're seeing nationwide.

"Report cards from the first weeks of the school year show more students than last year failing at least one class," reports the Texas Tribune. "Students are turning in assignments late, if at all; skipping days to weeks of virtual school; and falling behind on reading, educators and parents report."

In California, students — especially minority students — aren't fairing any better.

"Grades of D and F have increased in the Los Angeles Unified School District among middle and high school students in a troubling sign of the toll that distance learning — and the coronavirus crisis — is taking on children, especially those who are members of low-income families," reports The Los Angeles Times.

And make no mistake; minors aren't just falling behind academically. It's also causing an increase in drug abuse. Unsupervised teenagers are more prone to get in trouble with the law and engage in other high-risk behaviors (such as experiencing unwanted pregnancies) with schools closed.

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When teacher unions say it's not "safe" to reopen the schools, they're only looking out for themselves — not America's children, whose lives are being irreparably harmed.

Bottom line: Parents must contact their local school committees and state representatives and demand that schools reopen. The cure has unequivocally become worse than the disease. 

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