Schools Grapple With How, When to Reopen

July 1, 2020 Updated: July 1, 2020

NEW YORK—Many school districts are currently hammering out the new paradigm in education, weighing the risks of COVID-19 versus the potential harm to students and teachers, as well as parents who need to get back to work.

Children and adolescents haven’t been significantly affected by COVID-19, and they’re less likely to be symptomatic or infected, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a group of 67​,000 pediatricians. AAP said children are also less likely to spread infection.

As states ponder post-pandemic schooling, the AAP advises that all policy considerations for the upcoming school year “should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”

“There is a conflict between optimal academic and social/emotional learning in schools and strict adherence to current physical distancing guidelines,” the group stated.

Schools are having to decide whether they will force students and teachers to wear masks, as well as how to handle social distancing, cafeteria crowds, hallways, lockers, playgrounds, and bus travel.

The truncated 2020 school year, coupled with severe shutdown restrictions, has placed parents, students, and teachers in limbo, while online learning brought its own set of challenges.

The AAP said the importance of in-person learning is well-documented and goes far beyond academic instruction, to include social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, and physical activity.

‘There is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020,” the AAP states in a June 25 release. “Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.”

The AAP said these factors place children and adolescents at “considerable risk” of disease and even death. Food security also has become a major problem for many children and families.

In 2018, 2.7 million households with children lived in a household that couldn’t afford enough food at times during the year, according to Department of Agriculture data. The department launched a food service program over the summer to provide meals for children who usually received them at school.

“The coronavirus pandemic has led to increased unemployment and poverty for America’s families, which, in turn, will likely increase even further the number of families who experience food insecurity,” the AAP stated.

Opening Dates Up in the Air

Many states and school districts are looking at reopening dates between mid-August through September, while others are contemplating not opening classrooms until 2021.

The AAP cautions that preventative measures will only ever mitigate the risk of exposure to COVID-19 but won’t eliminate it.

New York has formed regional task forces to look at a hybrid version of schooling that would provide a mix of classroom and remote learning. The state’s education department has submitted a request to the U.S. Department of Education for $19.9 million to build out the hybrid program.

A survey released by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Erie, New York, found that 68 percent of parents surveyed said they agreed, or strongly agreed, that classroom-based schooling should resume in September with measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19, according to WGRZ. More than 25,000 parents and teachers participated in the survey.

In Palm Beach, Florida, the teacher’s union is pushing for a delay to the proposed Aug. 10 reopening of schools, citing a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

Florida’s governor has advocated for a full-capacity reopening with safety measures in place, while leaving the details up to local districts.

“Getting back on our feet in the school year, I think, is going to be really, really important for the well-being of our kids,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference on June 11. “But I also think it’s important for a lot of parents, who have had to juggle an awful lot over these last couple of months.”

On June 29, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered public schools to delay school reopening until at least Aug. 17.

In California, plans are being devised that include mandatory face masks in school, temperature checks at the school entrance, and a hybrid of classroom and remote learning.

As schools navigate the myriad factors of reopening, the AAP urges officials to be cognizant of the mental and emotional needs of children who have been largely isolated for months.

“Policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home.”

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