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Is It Safe to Send My Child Back to School? Health Experts Weigh In.

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Dr. Meg Meeker

To date in the U.S., we have 2.74 million confirmed cases of the virus and 130,000 deaths.

The virus is a very real threat, and its impact on our social and economic lives has been tremendous. Because of this, every parent will have a different reaction to this suggestion to reopen schools.

It’s important to note that the AAP’s guidance does not mean every school will open in the fall. That is up to state law and will highly depend on the number of cases and the rate of spread from state to state. But I want to emphasize that you can trust the AAP is placing child welfare front and center when making this recommendation. As their statement reads:

Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits. Beyond supporting the educational development of children and adolescents, schools play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity.

Studies are already coming out showing the detriment distanced learning has had on children not only academically but mentally as well. 

A study released in JAMA Pediatrics surveyed a group of students in the Hubei province of China, where the virus originated. Of that group, 22.6% reported symptoms of depression and 18.9% reported symptoms of anxiety. Some of this is related to fears of the virus in general and some were linked to being on lock-down and socially isolated from peers.

In the U.S., distanced learning has not received rave reviews from parents or students (or probably teachers) with 52% of students surveyed saying they didn’t feel motivated to complete their distance-learning assignments.

This is one of the main reasons I’m in agreement with the AAP’s recommendation—children who are accustomed to school are missing out greatly right now. They’ve already lost one semester. Can they really afford to lose another?

In addition, schools provide services for children in poverty who wouldn’t receive them otherwise. Many of these children were home alone this spring for long periods of time because both parents were essential workers, or they didn’t have ready access to the internet and computers to get their work done. These students in particular are suffering without school.

Still, this virus’s severity shouldn’t be downplayed, schools shouldn’t open without serious social-distancing and hygiene measures in place. Many educators have expressed concern about returning to their classrooms and rightfully so. The AAP has laid out their recommendations here for safely reopening schools based on age group. You’ll notice the older children get, the more precautions are necessary. This is because COVID has largely hit adult populations while young children have more often been carriers of the disease, rather than displaying symptoms.

Parents, this is a stressful time of wait-and-see. Wait to see if the number of cases continues to rise or if it will fall this summer. Waiting to see what your school board decides to do. And in the meantime, weighing the options and deciding what the bigger risk is to your child: sending him to school or making him stay home. That is if you even have the option to make the decision. Many parents do not.

If possible, I do recommend students return to the classroom this fall in a safe manner. While we have to be cautious about the spread of this virus, we also have to be cautious about the state of our child’s education and mental wellness and do what’s healthiest for long-term growth and potential. Take this aspect of your child’s health into consideration as you’re making important decisions for your child this fall.

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