Opening Schools Should Be Priority No. 1

Over the long course of the Covid-19 pandemic, one comforting fact has been that children have been at very little risk from the virus. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they haven’t suffered.

In fact, research on pandemic-related school closings suggests that the harm imposed on kids could last a lifetime. A recent report from McKinsey & Co., which analyzed data for 1.6 million elementary-school kids in the U.S., found that on average they were five months behind in math and four months behind in reading. Hardest hit were kids from low-income districts, as well as predominantly Black and Hispanic ones. The authors warn that this “unfinished learning” could impede future academic progress and depress wages “far into adulthood.” They also found rising rates of anxiety and depression.

Most parents won’t be surprised by those findings. They’ve watched their kids struggle to learn online, or become increasingly isolated without the vital social interactions in-person schooling provides. For many, remote learning has been a slow-motion disaster.

Getting kids back in the classroom must be a society-wide priority. We must turn the page on the last school year, when too many unions obstructed or slowed down school reopenings. America’s children cannot afford a repeat of that harmful episode, and it’s essential that teachers help lead the way.

The good news is that the vast majority of teachers are vaccinated, according to the National Education Association and the White House. Few other industries can boast of such high numbers. Teachers were given priority for vaccinations in many areas, and most had the good sense — and sense of professional responsibility — to get the shots. The country would be in much better shape if more of their former pupils followed their examples.