As public schools in Louisiana reopened in August, families across the state faced an agonizing decision: whether to send children back into classrooms where they are more likely to contract the novel coronavirus, or continue to keep them home, where the social, emotional and nutrition supports that are necessary for academic success are sometimes lacking.
While this choice is personal for every family, it is especially difficult for children who live with their grandparents, whose age could make them more susceptible to infection from a virus that kids could bring home. In Louisiana alone, 106,403 grandparents live with their grandchildren, and nearly half – 50,671 – are fully or partially responsible for the caretaking of that child. More than 22% of these grandparents are entirely responsible for raising their grandchildren, as no parent is present in the household. The trend of grandparents as caretakers has increased in recent years, particularly in the south, due to higher rates of mass incarceration and the opioid crisis.
While virtual learning is an option for many families, it is difficult for parents or grandparents who are working from home, and is near impossible for parents and grandparents who work outside the home and have no option but to send kids back for in-person learning.
Meanwhile, schools have not seen a dime of federal relief since the CARES Act was passed in late March, which only distributed $13.2 billion to K-12 education. Proposed additional aid to K-12 public schools since the CARES Act has ranged from $58 billion in the HEROES Act which passed out of the House in May, to $70 billion proposed by Republican Senators this July, to $175 billion proposed by Senate Democrats in June. Additional federal aid for schools is overdue, and without it they will be unable to open safely and meet the needs of their students that come with historic unemployment and a public health crisis.
Evidence has shown that children – especially those under 10 – are more likely to be asymptomatic and less likely to get seriously ill from Covid-19, but there also is research showing children can transmit the virus to adults in their households.
The health risks will fall disproportionately on Black families, who make up 32% of Louisiana’s population but 40% of the grandparents who live with their grandchildren. In total, 43,068 Black grandparents live with their grandchildren in Louisiana.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 5-year estimates, 2018
While the coronavirus is still novel, one thing we know for certain is that older adults are at the highest risk of becoming severely ill or dying. Reopening schools too early and without substantial federal aid to do so safely forces families to make the difficult decision between their health, their children’s schooling, and their jobs. School districts across Louisiana are doing their best to meet the needs of students and families, but they need more resources to do the job right. As Congress debates the next round of stimulus funding, lawmakers should make sure all school districts and families have the resources necessary to make in-person learning as safe as possible.