December 28, 2006

When to shut down a school

You probably didn't expect this subject from the title, but the entry today isn't about accountability, it's about public health. The Bloomberg news story today about this year's bird-flu cases has an interesting school angle, as DemFromCT (on DailyKos) notes: one of the simplest community interventions to prevent the spread of a contagious is to close the schools (JPG comparing 1918 flu mortality in Philadelphia and St. Louis; St. Louis schools closed, while Philadelphia's didn't).

One historical and one contemporary note about that: In 1918, the arguments over the right public-health measures were vigorous, and the actual practices varied widely. I suspect similar arguments will exist today in terms of whether it's right to close schools for public-health purposes. The tiny Horseheads Central School District in New York is discussing that right now. It may be at a state level: would a particular governor order schools closed for 2-4 months?

Contemporary note: if you're a parent, what would you do if the schools closed?  The quality of the interregnum would depend on resources, as they currently do with summer vacation. Parents with internet access will probably be able to continue their children's education, and states with "virtual" high schools will suddenly find the demand shooting up while bricks-and-mortar schools are closed. Academic teachers may find themselves working at home on some sort of electronic support for students, but the infrastructure doesn't exist to do that for 50 million schoolchildren.  It'll be a mess, of course.

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Posted in Education policy on December 28, 2006 12:43 PM |