After news that New York City — the nation’s largest educational system — would again close schools due to rising cases of COVID-19, while indoor dining and gyms are allowed to remain open, some (working mothers, especially) are wondering: can’t the kids just go to school in one of those otherwise mostly empty restaurants or gyms?
New York City joins many large cities across the country in closing schools while allowing businesses to remain open. While not uncommon practice in this country, it’s ridiculous that schools — particularly elementary schools, which are thought to be especially low-risk for transmission — should have to close while higher-risk venues like restaurants and gyms can stay open. Per the Times: “Virus transmission in city schools had remained very low since classrooms reopened at the end of September, and the spike in cases does not appear to be caused by the reopening of school buildings.” Children are less likely to get the virus, and less likely to spread it. Public-health experts have routinely encouraged government leaders to safely reopen schools when and wherever possible, and to close other nonessential businesses instead — as in western Europe, where schools have remained open while bars, theaters, and restaurants have closed.
Restaurants and gyms are ostensibly left open for economic reasons — business owners can’t blame bad sales on government leaders if they’re allowed to stay open, and politicians don’t face as much pressure to pass another stimulus bill if more of us are technically able to work. There are, of course, devastating economic consequences to closing schools, but those fall predominantly on women, who will be expected to work, parent, and teach all at once. There is a clear value judgment being made, here, in whose work can be stalled and whose can’t.