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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

53 mins ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Omicron's blitz around the world has underscored the need for a new arsenal of COVID vaccines and therapeutics, experts say — and that may require an effort akin to Operation Warp Speed 2.0.

Why it matters: The virus will continue to evolve, potentially in a way that further escapes vaccine protection, and the best way to prevent more global disruptions to everyday life is to have tools ready to combat whatever comes next.

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