As described in Chapter 1, evidence around the spread, mitigation, and treatment of COVID-19 is continuously emerging. Given this rapidly changing understanding of COVID-19, committee members relied heavily on their collective expert judgment in interpreting the available evidence. They also leveraged existing bodies of research—for example, on child development and schooling—to draw conclusions in areas where research specific to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is sparse or does not exist (such as research on the effects on socioemotional development of a sudden and long-term switch to solely virtual learning).
When reaching conclusions and developing recommendations, the committee drew on multiple streams of evidence: expert oral testimony was weighed alongside published literature as much as possible. However, it is important to acknowledge that, at the time of publication, many critical pieces of the COVID-19 puzzle are still missing. For example, there is still an incomplete picture of whether children—particularly those who are infected but without symptoms—can efficiently transmit the virus to others. Throughout this report, we have attempted to provide as much clarity as possible to the logic undergirding our conclusions and recommendations, as well as to identify additional research needs. The committee also solicited expert feedback on the effectiveness of strategies for mitigating COVID-19 in K–12 schools.
In order to obtain the evidence necessary to complete our review, the committee held three open sessions with experts from relevant areas of research. In the first open session, we heard testimony from Dr. Karen Bierman of the Pennsylvania State University, who discussed child develop-
ment in responding to COVID-19. We also heard from Dr. Barbara Means, the Executive Director of Digital Promise, who addressed the potential and limitations of virtual learning. Dr. Michael Portman of Seattle Children’s Hospital discussed the impact of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, and environmental science advisor Jerry Roseman discussed concerns around school facilities. We concluded the first open session meeting with a discussion with Dr. Stephen Pruitt, president of the Southern Regional Education Board, who offered perspective on how state leaders are making decisions related to school reopening.
At the second open session, the committee heard testimony on centering equity in addressing school reopening from Dr. Megan Bang of Northwestern University and the Spencer Foundation. Dr. Nancy Hill from Harvard University discussed the importance of engaging communities in school reopening decisions and plans. Dr. Lauren Ancel-Meyers of the University of Texas at Austin described her work modeling SARS-CoV-2 transmission, as well as her collaboration with the city of Austin to determine a framework for making decisions about when and how to reopen schools and businesses. Following the final committee meeting, we held one additional conversation with Dr. Linsey Marr of Virginia Tech, who consulted on indoor air quality and how schools should consider mitigating the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The contributions of these experts were critical to helping the committee understand and respond to the breadth of challenges facing education stakeholders as they make decisions related to reopening schools.
In order to fully understand the long and complex list of strategies schools might use to assist in reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the committee also sought input from epidemiologists and infectious disease prevention doctors. The committee asked a list of 30 experts to reflect on which mitigation strategies were most important for use in K–12 schools, and which were least useful. The committee incorporated this feedback into its analysis of how schools should prioritize and deploy mitigation strategies.