Children across the U.S. recently experienced what, until 2020, was an annual rite of passage: the first day of the new school year. But even as they returned to the classroom, hair freshly cut and backpacks pulled taut against their spines, nobody could predict the road ahead. 

Administrators attempted to follow the science and state regulations, which in many places existed in outright conflict. Teachers added distancing-enforcement to their already exhausting list of classroom tasks. Parents conducted their own risk assessments around everything from bus transportation to participation in afterschool activities.

The problem? That the data around in-school transmission are sufficiently pliable to accommodate interpretations that support any agenda. Do you believe that schools should be shuttered again amid the rise of the Delta variant? Or do you feel that school shutdowns should be the ultimate measure of last resort, given the impact closings have on student learning and emotional health?

Draw your own conclusions. Pick your own poison. This is education in the age of COVID-19.

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Data compiled by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, “COVID-19 in children and the role of school settings in transmission,” second update, July 2021.