Members Only | February 17, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

The reason Biden must reopen schools

Issac J. Bailey on the problems, seen and unseen, of kids living in isolation.

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My 16-year-old daughter wants to hang out with us more. That’s a problem, one that concerns me more than Covid-19. I hop in the truck to go to pick up some groceries. She hops in the truck with me. My wife hops into her car 5:30 in the morning to sit in a long line at the doctor’s. My daughter wakes up early, too, and joins her, knowing she might just be sitting in with her mom for a couple of hours. I head to the gym on a rainy-cold day. She tells me she wants to go, too. I tell her I may work out for maybe 90 minutes to an hour, thinking that would dissuade her. She rushes upstairs, puts on her athletic clothes, grabs a coat, jumps in the truck.

I love spending time with my daughter, particularly knowing she will soon be on her way to college like her older brother did last fall. It harkens back to days when they would rush to greet me at the door every day after work, and when I’d buy them Happy Meals from McDonald’s and they’d sit in the back of the classroom quietly eating as I taught a roomful of college students. I miss those times. But we are living in precarious days, making a rerun of the good old days feel not so good. 

My teenage daughter might just like hanging out with me again, though this feels like a response to a growing sense of isolation that is likely affecting her and millions of others her age. That frightens me more than a coronavirus that has killed at least half a million Americans.

My teenage daughter might just like hanging out with me again, though this feels like a response to a growing sense of isolation that is likely affecting her and millions of others her age. That frightens me more than a coronavirus that has killed at least half a million Americans. That’s why I desperately hope President Joe Biden makes good on his promise to do everything in his administration’s power to reopen schools within the first 100 days of his presidency. I don’t mean a watered-down version of his promise, which would count a school as reopened if it had in-person classes for as few as one day per week. Nearly two-thirds of students are already receiving that much school, including my daughter.

I understand the reluctance of those urging a go-slow approach. I’ve taken this pandemic seriously from the moment I heard of a new-strange virus in China. I ordered face masks for my family weeks before the CDC recommended. My family has been careful to commit to social distancing and hand-washing and the like, even when we had to, like millions of other Americans, miss out on graduation celebrations and funerals and visits to elderly loved ones and Sunday morning church services. We were careful when we went to the grocery store and how long we stayed. During jogs, I’d run to the other side of the road when anyone approached me on the sidewalk. Still, we got infected by the coronavirus. We were fortunate, only having to endure a couple of weeks of quarantine together and no serious complications.

I’m well aware of the complexity of trying to respond properly to a still-unfolding pandemic, emerging science and the potential dangers that remain. I know of the disturbingly uneven early vaccination efforts. I get the dread that new variants of Covid-19 might reverse the progress—a rapid decrease in infections, hospitalizations and deaths—we’ve seen over the past few weeks. I know that some of us are more vulnerable than others. I also know there are potentially horrific long-term consequences for keeping kids out of school. According to epidemiologist Benjamin Linas, there’s already been “a rise in the use of pediatric emergency rooms for psychiatric illnesses, increasing anxiety and depression symptoms, losses in learning progress, and large racial disparities in the availability of in-person instruction and educational achievement.”  

Just recently, my neurologist gave me the greenlight and is now recommending I take the vaccine shots when they become available to me. I know the vaccines are safe, but we’ve been reluctant to move forward with it because I have a rare auto immune disease—Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, CIDP—that nearly killed me not too long ago. I’ve been in remission for five years. But the disease, which convinced my white blood cells to attack my nerve linings and shut down my major muscle groups, is so rare we don’t know what triggered it or what might again. It’s why I can’t donate blood. We are kind of flying blind with my health. But we know enough to believe another infection is a bigger threat than the vaccine. The science seems to strongly suggest the same about the threat of schools reopening vs. what might happen to kids if they remain closed for much longer. The risk sparked by reopening will never be zero. But the risk to kids from closed schools grows by the day.

—Issac J. Bailey


Issac J. Bailey is a South Carolina-based journalist who has won numerous writing and reporting awards, was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman Fellow and is the Batten Professor of Public Policy at Davidson College. He’s been published by The New York TimesWashington Post, CNN, Politico MagazineTime, among many other publications. He recently released his third bookWhy Didn’t We Riot: A Black Man in Trumpland.

Published in cooperation with Alternet.

Issac J. Bailey is a South Carolina-based journalist who has won numerous writing and reporting awards, was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman Fellow and is the Batten Professor of Public Policy at Davidson College. He's been published by The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Politico Magazine, Time, among many other publications. He recently released his third book, Why Didn't We Riot: A Black Man in Trumpland.

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