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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There's a dire need to reopen schools as quickly as possible — and it can be done without endangering teachers, families or the community, a report to be presented to members of Congress concludes.

Why it matters: With its conclusion that masking, hand-washing, good ventilation and social distancing can make schools safe for everyone, the report tries to bring clarity to what has been an enormously polarizing issue.

Driving the news: The report — commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and five other nonprofits — analyzed the conclusions of more than 130 studies of whether schools can be reopened safely. It found the public benefits of school closures "questionable."

  • Any benefits to closing schools are far outweighed by the grave risks to children from remote-only schooling — risks that intensify the longer it continues, the report says.
  • The harms include academic loss — so severe that it could set children back for life — and mental health problems related to loneliness and isolation.
  • There are also severe hardships on parents — mothers in particular, about two million of whom have left the workforce to care for their kids as part of remote learning.
  • "Schools are not super-spreaders," observes the report, written by John P. Bailey, a former deputy policy director at the Department of Commerce.

The details: One study highlighted in the report — by the Chicago Department of Public Health — compared the Chicago Public Schools, which have been closed for a year, with the Chicago Archdiocese schools, which reopened in the fall.

  • When they reopened, the Archdiocese schools required masking, physical distancing, daily on-site temperature and symptom checks, and other measures.
  • "The estimated COVID attack rate among students at Archdiocese schools was 0.2% — significantly lower than the 0.4% rate for all Chicago children," Bailey said.
  • And the Archdiocese students made academic gains, test scores showed — while the public school students likely fell further behind.

Where it stands: On Friday, Bailey will present the report to the House Committee on Education and Labor. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers are also being briefed.

  • More than 50 million children have stayed home from school and shifted to remote learning since the pandemic began. School reopenings have proceeded fitfully.

What they're saying: "The kids that have been out of school the longest have the most urgent need of getting back in the classroom," Bailey tells Axios.

  • "There's also a group of students for whom remote learning has been a struggle — and they're falling behind. That is a group of students that should be prioritized for in person instruction as well."
  • Mental health problems among school kids are so pervasive that "it's another pandemic beneath the current pandemic that we're facing," says Bailey, who's a fellow at AEI and adviser at the Walton Family Foundation.

The bottom line: "It is possible to do this in a way that brings kids back in the classroom and protects teachers," Bailey said.

Go deeper: Exclusive: Teenagers' mental health claims doubled last spring

Go deeper

SoCalGas agrees to $1.8 billion settlement for 2015 gas blowout

An evacuee with a Save Porter Ranch sign outside Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon gate in Porter Ranch in January 2016 as the gas leak continued. Photos: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Southern California Gas Company and its parent company announced Monday they've agreed to pay up to $1.8 billion in settlement claims over the 2015 Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility blowout.

Why it matters: Some 100,000 tons of methane, ethane and toxic chemicals poured into the air for 112 days, forcing over 8,000 families to evacuate from their Los Angeles-area homes and sickening many with headaches, nausea and nosebleeds, per the L.A. Times.

Updated 4 hours ago - World

North Korea fires short-range missile to sea, slams "hostile" U.S. policy

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday that North Korea's military had fired a short-range missile toward its eastern sea, per AP.

Why it matters: North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations defended the latest launch in remarks to the UN General Assembly, demanding the U.S. and South Korea end their "hostile policy" against the country.

Arizona Judge: Adding mask mandates ban to budget bill unconstitutional

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

An Arizona judge ruled Monday that the state's ban on mask mandates in schools, and other measures put into the state budget by Republicans, are unconstitutional, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The sweeping ruling voids a ban on vaccine requirements for public universities, community colleges and local governments, and strikes down some non-COVID-related measures like a ban on teaching critical race theory in classrooms and anti-fraud measures for ballots.

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