What Does the Research Say About Reopening Schools?

One year ago, I stepped out of my apartment in downtown Brooklyn for the first time since the world shut down. Jogging toward Brooklyn Bridge park, I should have heard laughs, giggles and screams as I passed a K-8 private school – it was 3 p.m. and students would have typically been on their way home. Instead, I heard nothing but the birds, breeze and sirens blaring in the distance.

Now at 3 p.m., children breathe a sigh of relief when they can turn off the laptop for the day.

State policymakers and school administrators have made hard decisions at every turn as academics transitioned to virtual learning across America. Questions concerning duration of this style, the virus’s nature and how vulnerable children are could not be answered for a long time. But time has yielded a host of research that helps to inform leaders on what the next steps should be in returning to the physical classroom. Transitioning to a hybrid-model or fully reopening schools seems more possible than ever.

Examining over 130 different studies, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has compiled a report of the key findings within the research showing safe but cautious reopening is possible. Thanks to Visiting Fellow John Bailey and AEI for their research on this important topic. Here’s what we learned:

  • Children Are Usually Not Infected: Research from around the world shows children make up only a small proportion of those who have been infected with COVID-19; they do not develop severe illness and they have low mortality rates.
  • Schools Do Not Drive Transmission: Research shows schools mirror how the community is doing health-wise – they are not drivers of transmission. High schoolers are more likely to contract the virus and spread it, but the risk overall in grade school children is still very low.
  • Being Careful Helps: Cautionary strategies such as masks, social distancing, air ventilation, vaccinations, etc. all lessen the risk of spreading.
  • Consequences for Not Reopening: Growing research indicates children face a greater health concern than COVID-19 if schools stay closed. Some of these are missing health checkups, not having food stability (which school often provides), overall mental health and social/emotional troubles.
  • Learning Loss for Vulnerable Students: Learning loss is an adverse result of keeping schools closed that affects all students, but most particularly those in under-resourced communities.

A year later, growing research shows reopening schools is safe if precautions are taken. If keeping schools closed continues to be the norm, state policymakers and school administrators need to account for the adverse effects. Hopefully this kind of research will help make those decisions easier.

Mentioned on this page

Let’s Keep in Touch

Our Values-Based Giving Newsletter helps philanthropists and charitable organizations apply their values to their giving and follow the best practices for success.


This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.