Back to School? Not So Fast.

From pre-K playgrounds to College campuses, administrators, parents, and students alike wonder how to approach the start of yet another new school year when they never actually “ended” the last one. One thing is for sure: this year will be different. 

The virus has had a unique impact on the average American family: their children’s education. Research shows that in most cases the online or at-home education has fallen onto the shoulders of the mothers in the household, in some cases to the detriment of their careers and overall mental wellbeing. This may be due to long-standing gender role differences in households, where we know that women, especially women of color, are more likely to be in charge of childcare, which includes their schooling. All parents, but particularly working mothers, have hard decisions to make for their families, and the deadline to make them is quickly nearing.

So far, much like other aspects of the pandemic’s fallout, there’s no real clear consensus on the correct way to do this. This month, Holy Cross University in Worcester, MA, did an about-face and announced their classes would be fully online. In June, Johns Hopkins University announced that students returning in September would take both in-person and online classes. This past month Hopkins decided that the pandemic is too prolific for full or even partial reopening.  Then they went further, discouraging their students from coming to Baltimore to live. Hopkins made its concern clear for the health of the university community as well as for the greater Baltimore community. They saw that the Baltimore community, whose population is reported to be over 65% Black and Hispanic, and are considered among the most vulnerable to COVID19, would not fare well to a swell of college-age students from across the globe, landing in Baltimore and potentially bringing high levels of the virus with them. Hopkins’ approach is one of the most compassionate and real-world examples that we’ve seen in all of HigherEd, and quite frankly, in almost all of this pandemic. 

What we have learned through this pandemic is that we can no longer hurry up and wait. Waiting it out for things to just get “back to normal” is not realistic, and “normal” won’t be felt any time soon. In turn, we have an opportunity to shape what our new normal is (even though the journey might feel uncomfortable, or even counter-intuitive).

“What we have learned through this pandemic is that we can no longer hurry up and wait. Waiting it out for things to just get “back to normal” is not realistic, and “normal” won’t be felt any time soon. In turn, we have an opportunity to shape what our new normal is (even though the journey might feel uncomfortable, or even counter-intuitive).”

Acting from science, not fear, and staffed with some of the world’s best epidemiologists, Johns Hopkins University has reversed what could have been a catastrophic increase in the Maryland numbers of COVID19 cases.  

As the founder and CEO of a biopharmaceutical company, I have observed and worked with children, specifically children with autism, for decades. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in working with all the children I have worked with and their families, it’s that the one-size-fits-all approach really fits no one. To the parents, mothers and caretakers working from home and raising their own village, trying to settle on which educational pathway works best for their lifestyle — the map is unclear. 

I have three loves in my life: children, medicine and baseball, and attached I’ve created a resource that combines all three – a purposeful “scorecard” parents can use to assess the risks and determine if the gains outweigh those risks for them. 

As I stated, there is no “one size fits all” answer, the decisions you make for your child will be individual and based on the circumstances that administrators, school officials, politicians, and/or other parents may not understand. If you live in a state that is considered a “hot spot” then you have many additional considerations than those who live in states where the infectivity level is below 1%. Even then, the research shows us that low infectivity locations can become a higher infectivity location with an influx of college students or places where distancing is difficult.

The bottom line: no one wins here. Higher Ed may lose hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars in essential revenue. The most vulnerable in the population are most likely to be overexposed to COVID19 if everyone goes to school or campus. Parents and educational professionals are faced with a similar option: putting their job and livelihood in danger, or their health and families in danger. There is so much more that we still don’t know about the danger of this virus. We cannot predict the level of community spread there could be on campuses, passing between students, nor do we know how sick they could become if they contract COVID19. We also do not know the long-term effects from a bout with the virus. So how much are we willing to risk?

In the near term, COVID19’s impact isn’t likely to dramatically abate.  As a medical practitioner and researcher, I echo the refrain from prominent experts: we cannot fix our economy until we get past this pandemic. Higher Ed, schools, and families, cannot return to any semblance of normalcy until people feel the benefit outweighs the risk. 

Dr. Joan Fallon [], the founder and CEO of Curemark, and holder of 179 patents, has been a leading voice in wellness and pharma development for decades. Curemark has raised over $150 million in funding for clinical trials and drug research studies to develop effective novel treatments to treat serious diseases such as Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s Disease, addiction, and most specifically Autism. In an industry largely dominated by men, Dr. Fallon has broken the mold and is a true advocate for the health of underrepresented groups.