Time for state leaders to re-open public schools for young children

May 11, 2021

It’s time for Washington state leaders to re-open public schools for young children.

Since public schools were closed, educational institutions across the state of Washington have transitioned into remote learning. The health risks imposed by COVID-19 created widespread concern over the safety of in-person classrooms. Nevertheless, health conditions have improved, especially as national COVID-19 case rates gradually decline with vaccinations becoming more common, and private schools have re-opened. Thus it is vital to recognize the costs associated with online learning for younger children and the need for a return to public school classrooms. 

Early childhood is a crucial period for children’s development that can have long-term profound consequences, especially on children’s cognitive, emotional and social growth. During the years of preschool and elementary, a child’s learning becomes much more explicit and physical. Children at these ages learn more through activity rather than just thinking about the material.

According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, a child’s shared activities with educators and other children offer effective opportunities to promote cognitive growth. The New York Times notes that young children need recess, playtime, and social interaction as a means to absorb new information, which aids their ability to learn.

However, online learning imposes severe limitations on this type of learning and makes millions of young children miss out on hands-on learning experiences. Studies demonstrate that young students miss out on mastering fundamental areas such as math and reading because of school closures. 

A year of compelled online schooling can set back children in the long run. Surveys also show parents are apprehensive about their children falling behind in education.

“There is still a disconnect,” says mother Ms. Frazier of her relationship with the school district during remote learning.

On top of this, online learning further widens the current educational disparities based on income and race. Data shows a negative impact on learning that disproportionately affects children from middle- and low-income families. According to The Washington Post, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted young children from low-income Black and Latino communities. Prior to the pandemic, these demographic groups were already experiencing restraints on access to proper education and were set at a disadvantage in academia.

The shift to online learning can set back these groups even further and hinder their progress, especially with the lack of necessary resources such as technological equipment.

Washington state lags behind other states in opening public school classrooms. State leaders need to re-open classrooms for young children in a way that promotes both a healthy and engaging environment to improve learning while taking health safety precautions. If public schools remain closed, the lingering harmful effects of remote learning will continue to create detrimental hurdles for future generations of families.