An epidemiologist at Boston University is facing backlash after insinuating that contemporary in-person education is less important than mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in schools. 

Dr. Ellie Murray, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, made the argument that schooling is a relatively new concept, making education less important than the spread of COVID-19 among kids. She dubbed the idea of sending children back to school without “pandemic mitigation” “mystifying.” 

“Genuine [question] for [people] more concerned about school being closed than covid: are you aware mandatory schooling is barely a century old in this country? Maybe ur all [sic] grandparents had high school, but what about [your] great-grandparents? Yes, education is important. But it’s a pandemic,” Murray said. 

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“My point here isn’t that schools closing is good, or that everything is going to be just fine. It’s just we shouldn’t be acting like no schools is a completely unprecedented unknowable scenario. It was normal life for most of human history,” the assistant professor continued.

“School is super important! I am fully supportive of schools [and] education!! But the idea that schools need to stay open even if when we [sic] can’t do appropriate pandemic mitigation because ‘who knows what unending damage closures will do to kids’ mystifying [sic] to me,” she concluded. 

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Murray received intense backlash from a slew of public figures, including journalist Glenn Greenwald. He reiterated Murray’s logic and pointed out that policymakers are viewing the pandemic from the single lens of COVID sickness while ignoring and refusing to weigh the costs of what lockdowns will do to children and society at large. 

“Kids didn’t have to go to school in the 19th Century so stop being so hysterical if your kids can’t go to school now, announces this public health expert,” Greenwald said. “Because COVID sickness and deaths are more dramatic and obvious costs, it’s been tempting for policy makers to ignore the more insidious but very grave costs of sustained restrictions imposed in the name of stopping COVID. But it’s irrational and immoral to ignore those costs.”

Other commentators pointed out that the epidemiologist was making the case for homeschooling and showed a lack of empathy for poor and minority children. 

According to her biography, Murray’s chief focus is “improving evidence-based decision-making by … policy makers.” However, her analysis for returning children to the classroom fails to weigh the costs of school closures, particularly on minority children. 

Study after study has shown that minority students are trailing behind in academic assessments in what appears to be a result of virtual learning. An analysis by NWEA, an academic assessment nonprofit, discovered that “Latino third graders scored 17 percentile points lower in math in the spring of 2021, compared to the typical achievement of Latino third graders in the spring of 2019.” 

Per The New York Times’ reporting on the same analysis, “the decline was 15 percentile points for Black students and 14 percentile points for Native American students, compared with similar students in the past.”

Another report from the consulting firm McKinsey uncovered that the pandemic widened existing achievement gaps and “made high schoolers more likely to drop out.”

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