School Closures Are A Moral Failure

Continued COVID school closures fly in the face of science and risk disaster for children’s development and mental well-being

Tom Williams
5 min readFeb 8, 2022


Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

It’s easy to forget just how little we knew at the start of the pandemic. In January 2020, the World Health Organisation declared that there was “no clear evidence” of human-to-human Coronavirus transmission. In March of that same year, the US Surgeon General warned that masks didn’t just fail to prevent Coronavirus spread, but could actively make it worse (later, Dr Fauci admitted, officials knew this was untrue, but wanted to sure up mask supplies for essential workers). At this time, some preliminary reports were suggesting a fatality rate as high as 6% for those who tested positive for the Coronavirus.

Given the near-constant flurry of alarming — and often contradictory — information that was coming in during the early days of the pandemic, the stringent measures introduced at the time were understandable (even if they seem draconian by today’s standards). Moreover, those measures — from school closures, stay-at-home orders and travel bans — seemed more reasonable given their initially expected time frame (remember, 2 weeks to flatten the curve?)

Since the days of Tiger King and Pringle’s washing (as Bari Weiss put it on a Bill Maher appearance last month), we’ve learnt a lot more. We’ve learnt that masks are indeed effective in preventing transmission — just not those cloth masks you’ve been wearing for most of the last two years. We’ve also learned that the risk of COVID spreading through surfaces is negligible and that the risk faced by children who do catch COVID is very, very low. The most important development, of course, is the creation — and widespread distribution of — a highly effective vaccine.

All of this is incredibly encouraging news for those of us who care about the health and well-being of our fellow citizens. Less encouraging is our continued public health response to Coronavirus two years on from it’s emergence — as we remain wedded to measures that have proved to be not just ineffective but actively harmful to those subjected to them. Perhaps the most shameful element of the public health response has been the way children — who, again, are at minimal risk from COVID — have been forced to bear the heaviest burden of COVID restrictions.

School closures were an obvious response to the early days of the pandemic; we did not yet know of the low risk of COVID to children, we had the technology (Zoom, Teams, etc) to move schooling online and it was an obvious assumption that schools would be epicentres for the spread of this virus.

It was always obvious that the move to online learning would not be without it’s drawbacks, but not even online learning’s biggest sceptics could have anticipated the scale of it’s fallout. Almost immediately, issues began to arise, with photos of school-children forced to learn from fast-food parking lots going viral. Meanwhile, without schools there to offer children a safe space away from home, hundreds-of-thousands of cases of abuse that would usually be expected to be reported weren’t. Countless other children who relied on school meals for the majority of their daily caloric intake were left at risk of hunger and malnutrition. In short, millions of children were falling through the cracks.

Perhaps the most shameful element of the public health response to Coronavirus has been the way children — who are at minimal risk from COVID — have been forced to bear the heaviest burden of restrictions.

When the majority of children went back to school in 2021, the impact of these prolonged closures was painfully self-evident. (Side note: these closures did not end for many children in 2021, and poor and minority children were disproportionately likely to face continued school closures — further exacerbating existing inequalities in education). Upon returning to in-person teaching, children were, on average, five months behind in maths and four months behind in reading — a figure even more severe in majority Black and Brown schools. Make no mistake, this lag in expected and achieved academic outcomes would be treated as nothing short of a national crisis if it had occurred during any other time.

The impact among the youngest children — whose key primary socialisation years were heavily altered by COVID restrictions — were even more alarming. Upon return to the classroom, teachers reported that some children had forgotten how to use a knife and fork, while others stressed that previously potty-trained children had reverted back to diapers.

This isn’t even to mention the mental impact that lockdown and school closures had on children. Cases of self harm among minors rose over 50% in some areas, with cases of self-harm among children as young as 8-years-old being reported. In Spring 2020 — mere months into virtual learning, a UK report found a 10% increase in children experiencing severe emotional symptoms, a 20% increase in hyperactivity and a 35% increase in general conduct issues. No wonder then, that in October of last year a national emergency was declared for children’s mental health.

Despite everything we know about the disastrous impact of prolonged school closures — depression, self-harm, loss of motor skills and reduced academic achievement, among them — many still advocate for continued school closures going into 2022. This, even as the vaccine rollout makes it easier than ever for high-risk adults to protect themselves from the virus. Many of these people — including many teachers and parents — advocate for this out of genuine, if misguided, good intentions. Many however, like New York gubernatorial hopeful Jumaane Williams, should — and surely do — know better.

It was one thing to shutdown schools at the start of the pandemic, when risks remained unknown and the vaccine remained well away. Knowing now, however, the disastrous impact of school closures and of the low COVID risk to children, continuing to close schools — to separate children from their friends, and to force them to eat outside in bitingly cold weather isn’t just wrong — it’s a moral failing of unforgiveable proportions.



Tom Williams

Political analysis | Bylines: Rantt Media, Extra Newsfeed, PMP Magazine, Backbench, Dialogue and Discourse | Editor: Breakthrough