Reopen Evanston Schools

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Evanston Township High School recently announced the resumption of “in-person experiences,” but will continue with remote learning. Though this is a step in the right direction, it falls short:  Kids should be back in the building for learning.

We laud the emphasis on student and teacher safety. However, for many students and their families, the mental health toll of remote learning is far outweighing the risk of being in school. We as parents and physicians see it, and it’s deeply troubling. 

Local pediatricians are prescribing antidepressants at alarmingly high rates. Adolescent mental health providers are at capacity and can no longer accept new patients due to the overwhelming demand for their services.  Suicide remains a leading cause of death among adolescents, and there are alarming anecdotes across the country regarding the increase in suicides, suicide attempts, and suicidal ideation due to the social isolation and stress remote learning brings.

Fortunately, we can move forward and return kids to in-person learning because mitigation strategies work. With appropriate masking, distancing, disinfection, and ventilation, school re-openings have not contributed meaningfully to community spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. There are no more reliable sources than these.

As Superintendent Eric Witherspoon states, no one wants to contract this potentially deadly virus.  Thankfully, as the pandemic has proceeded, we have made tremendous progress treating a bad illness with steroids, antibodies, and antiviral drugs.  We’ve learned through experience – for better or for worse.  And now with the vaccine, there is an additional layer of safety through prevention.  

More needs to be done to protect vulnerable communities, particularly Black and Latinx communities, from the ravages of the virus. The pandemic has exposed the deep health disparities that have been festering in our community and country for decades.  Many high risk families within the ETHS community are understandably fearful of their student bringing home the virus if they attend school in-person. 

Therefore, additional steps need to be taken to protect vulnerable communities within ETHS.  Testing, which has been a scare resource, has become more available and less expensive. As a community, we can prioritize testing for any student in an at-risk household to add an additional layer of safety.  Likewise, prioritization for vaccinating at-risk families can allow all kids to return to ETHS.  These priorities can be decided on quickly by our City, school, and public health leaders.

Most of all, we need to trust the experts – and each other.  We have to put our faith in the data from the CDC, the AMA, and the AAP, and act on it.  We have to trust that each of us has the students’ best interests in mind, even when we disagree.  Because there is a diversity of students, we should expect a diversity of opinions and a diversity of needs. 

At the very least, can we expand the options to help all students?  Many students will continue to suffer with remote learning. We believe the evidence supports returning students to ETHS for in-person learning.  

Trust – not fear – should be the driver of this decision.

Eric Chehab, M.D. ;Shana Christian, M.D.; Virginia DePaul, M.D.; Cathy DiVincenzo, M.D.; Mary Hall, M.D.; Val Kimball, M.D.; James Olson, M.D.; and Matthew Pellurite, M.D., and Dov Shapiro, M.D. on behalf of Reopen Evanston Schools,  www.reopenevanstonschools.com