With the new school year rapidly approaching, and coronavirus cases on the rise in more than 40 states across the nation, parents, teachers, and administrators are scrambling to figure out what the school year looks like in the age of COVID-19.
Should you send your kids back to school this fall?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the answer is yes—a position that contradicts advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which maintains that online learning remains the lowest risk for spreading coronavirus.
In an interview with the Today Show last week, Dr. Sally Goza, President of the AAP, explained why and how the nation’s pediatric organization has come to its decision.
“After weighing what we know about children and coronavirus, the AAP is strongly advocating that the goal should be to have students physically present in the school,” she said, adding that “careful measures” should be taken to keep students and staff safe.
The AAP has issued detailed guidance for school re-entry, which is broken down by age groups, and emphasizes the need for physical distancing, wearing masks, frequent cleaning, staggered busing and cafeteria times, as well as staggered start times for when students enter the school.
To create the guidelines, experts at the AAP examined school reopenings in countries around the world like China, Denmark, Norway, Singapore, Taiwan, and many others, who have successfully seen students return to classes despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s important to note that these countries have all seen steady declines in the total number of coronavirus cases being reported, while the U.S. is hitting daily records for highest number of new COVID-19 cases several times a week.
Still, the AAP stands by their research, pointing to data that shows children are at a lesser risk, and benefit greatly from in-school learning.
“It really seems that children do not spread the virus as much as adults do,” Goza said.
Of course, it goes without saying that many teachers—especially those who are older and more at risk for severe complications from COVID-19—have expressed concerns over school districts plans for return to learn, with many urging employees and families to push for continued remote learning as the school year begins.
“Our guidelines do talk in there that it has to be safe for the teachers and the staff,” Goza said. “So that’s going to really be up to the school leaders and local public health officials to work together to insure that safety, and then be really ready to switch gears based on that community’s prevalence of COVID-19 cases.
“And teachers are going to really be needing to wear masks, to physically distance, to stay six feet apart from the students and from the other teachers. That’s going to be difficult in some places, but I think teachers will be up to the challenge.”
Goza says the AAP believes that the importance of physically being at school goes well beyond educational studies.
“We know that children learn more in school than just reading, writing and arithmetic,” Goza said. “They get social and emotional skills, healthy meals and exercise, mental health support and other things that you just can’t get with online learning.”
“Schools play a real critical role in addressing racial and social inequity,” Goza continued. “This pandemic has really been hard on those families who rely on school lunches, have limited access to the internet or health care, or both parents have to work.”
Goza also noted that remote learning can especially hurt students with special needs.
“Our children with autism, some of them are starting to show signs of regression by not being in the school and having that social and emotional interaction,” she said.
Ultimately, the AAP warns that while its goal is to see all children return to school this fall, flexibility is key, as new information is rapidly changing.