Matt Micheli: Wyoming Did It Right With Schools and the Pandemic

in Matt Micheli/Column

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By Matt Micheli, columnist

I have learned in this pandemic to never count chickens before they hatch and never take a celebratory lap too early – because something always seems to kick you in the face. Having said that, we are sitting here now almost at the end of February, some six months since school started.

I think we are at least safe to, at this moment, give a large, loud and hearty thank you to everyone involved with the Wyoming education system for all the steps they have taken to make sure our kids were able to go back to in-person school.

Every school board member, every superintendent, every principal, but most importantly every teacher, support staff, para-professional and all front-line workers deserve our gratitude.

Sometimes in Wyoming it is easy to take for granted how good that we have it here. It is easy to say, of course they went back to school.

But that did not have to be the case. In fact, the most recent data that I could find showed that as of two weeks ago, there were only two states in the nation with 100% of their schools doing live, in-person learning. That was Wyoming and Montana.

There were only two other states with more than 90% in-person learning – Florida and Arkansas. There were four more with 80% or higher, those included Texas, Utah, Nebraska, and North Dakota.

On the flip side, there were four states where not a single school had yet started in-person learning and seven more that had less than 10% doing in-person learning. In total, in 31 states had more than half of the schools in their state only doing virtual learning.

Democrats love to lecture conservatives on “science” and following the science. The science on this one is very clear.

There is no doubt and it has been demonstrated over and over that in person learning is much better for students in a whole myriad of ways.

All children are impacted from having schools shut down, but especially at risk children or children that don’t have the support system at home are slipping through the cracks. They are missing out on critical development and may never recover. In those states that have now been closed for an entire year, how many of those kids just never come back to school?

The science is also clear that opening schools did not make states less safe. Wyoming and Montana, the only two states with 100% of the schools meeting in person, both rank in the top half of states for fewest deaths per million people.

If you look at the 8 states with 80% of the schools open, that average death rate is better in those states than the overall average death rate of all the states.  When you look at the states with the strictest no school policies, there is no evidence it has helped their death rates.

For example, New Jersey has 2.5% of schools meeting in person, but has the single highest death rate in the country. New York has roughly 3/4 of their kids still learning remotely and has second worst death rate.

Compare that to Florida with 99.8% of their students in schools with a death rate that is more than 75% less than New York and New Jersey. Texas has 80% of their students in school and also has a much lower death rate than New York or New Jersey.  

If you want to compare a state a little more like Wyoming, New Mexico has 5.5% of their students attending in person classes and is ranked 35th for deaths/million, having a much worse death rate than the national average.

This same pattern holds true pretty much across the board. At a minimum, it is obvious that there is no correlation between opening schools and increased harm from the virus.  

As we watch the national news, we see the politicization of virtually every aspect of our lives, including our children’s education. That was never the case here.

Our education system, starting at the top and going all the way to every single school employee, has relentlessly focused on getting kids back in school and letting them learn in person. I cannot even imagine the hours and the work that went into all of this effort, all with one goal in mind – doing what is best for the children.

I, for one, am grateful for that. I am grateful that our teachers put the needs of our students first. So thank you.

Thank you, teachers, administrators, support staff and everyone else that has worked so hard to give my children and all of our children the best chance to be successful.

Thank you for doing everything you could to open our schools and allow in-person learning. Thank you for putting the best interest of the children above politics.    

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