The long-term risks to children of remaining in isolation—to academic and social development and even physical safety for those in stressed or unstable homes—is rapidly outpacing the health risks associated with reopening schools.
That’s the upshot of the American Academy of Pediatric’s strongly worded new guidance on reopening schools. While district leaders should work to mitigate the risk of spreading the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, the group says, “All policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
In doing so, the AAP takes a deliberate stand at a time when many states and districts are still trying to work out how to balance student learning and public safety. The children’s doctors argue that learning losses during remote instruction this spring have been severe, and there are signs of increases in both child abuse and suicidal behavior among children and teenagers as the isolation continues.
“Although many questions remain, the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection,” the doctors say. “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.”
The guidance advocates for more flexibility on health measures than some state reopening plans have provided so far. For example, while six-foot buffers around students and staff should be a goal, the doctors argued that providing three-foot buffers, or solid dividers could help manage the spread without requiring students to learn remotely. Likewise, the AAP advised that school plans for temperature checks or other wide-scale screenings should be considered only if they are practical and balanced against the potential loss of teaching time.
The pediatricians’ guidance comes as more evidence suggests schools may be lower vectors of the coronavirus disease than they have been with pandemics such as the flu. The AAP advises leaders considering reopening schools to:
- Develop strategies that can be revised and adapted depending on the level of viral transmission in the school and throughout the community.
- Make policies practical and appropriate for children’s developmental stages.
- Make accommodations for students who are medically fragile, live in poverty, or have disabilities or other special education needs, and do not let physical safety concerns become a barrier for them receiving in-person instruction.
- Regularly communicate plans to children and their parents, including those who do not speak English.
- How Is COVID-19 Affecting Children’s Health? 4 Questions Answered
- Pediatricians: Pandemic Recovery Plans Ignoring Child Health, Education
- Schools Were Crowded Before COVID-19. After, Educators Say It Will Be Worse
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.