Millions of parents of children of all ages have one question at the top of their list. Are schools going to open in the fall? While some parents have decided to keep their kids at home indefinitely, many more want or need schools to open for various reasons. For some parents, going back to work will be impossible if schools don’t open. They will be forced to make an impossible decision of homeschooling or working. There are also parents who do have flexible schedules, but the negatives of keeping their kids out of school outweigh the positives. Their primary goal is to regain some normalcy for their children.
No matter your reason, parents have been looking to experts and school officials to make the decision. This may be a little frustrating because opinions can vary greatly. What one doctor would do, another wouldn’t and it’s become apparent that there is no right or wrong answer. A lot of it is situational which means that what works best for one family may not be what works best for the next.
For parents who find them torn by the differing viewpoints, there is one group of medical professionals who came out with a definitive thought on whether or not kids should be in school this fall. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) just strongly came out with the recommendation that kids need to return to school, in-person this fall. In making this recommendation, the organization has taken into account that kids seem to be less impacted by the severity of COVID-19. There is also new research that suggests that kids are less likely to catch COVID-19. They also appear to be less likely to spread it. This last ray of hope is especially beneficial for schools, parents, and administrators that are concerned about keeping staff safe.
What reasons did the AAP give for reopening schools? The AAP first acknowledged the valiant efforts of schools to implement distance learning on such short notice. With that being said, they believe that there are certain things that kids just can’t get from distance learning. Distance learning sought to solve the actual education program but even if revamped, would not be able to provide kids with the mental, social, and emotional development that they receive in school.
The AAP also acknowledged that for some students, these disadvantages are exaggerated. Parents with children who have special needs have a harder, if not impossible time homeschooling their kids without the extra resources available to them. Some kids depend on schools to provide them with their meals or a safe haven from abusive homes. Other kids who may be more timid and shy need school to help with building socialization skills and relationship building.
Overall though, the AAP believes that schools need to focus on having kids in school this fall to prevent any more mental and emotional damage. Having them in school in the fall will also help to stop learning loss over the last few months as opposed to increasing it. The longer this learning loss continues, the more it will be impactful for not just the short term, but the long term as well.
Opening schools will be no easy task though. The process of doing so must be well thought out and planned. Teachers who fall into high-risk categories should be a primary concern and accommodations need to be made for them to ensure their safety. Some states may be able to implement outdoor learning easier than others because of warmer climates but whenever possible, schools should try to spend as much time outside as possible. This recommendation has been made since the virus has a harder time spreading outside than indoors. In instances where this is impossible because of the weather, proper ventilation is key.
Teachers should be provided with mask, if possible, the kind that medical professionals wear to make them more effective. It will be hard to get smaller kids to wear masks effectively, but for older kids, masks should also be worn (and provided). Education should also be provided to staff and students on how to properly wear the masks so that they’re not constantly touching their faces. Spacing should be done for students to abide by social distancing but once again, one of the main benefits of going to school is socializing so that needs to be acknowledged. What’s even more important is that teachers are able to properly socially distance since they are more likely to catch COVID-19 and suffer complications from it than kids.
One of the best things that the United States has going for them is that other countries have already started school again. Hopefully, school districts will use this knowledge as well as the time that they have before school starts to put something effectively into place.