Is it Time for our Children to go Back to the Classroom?
I was speaking at a COVID-19 webinar when someone asked the million dollar question. Is it time for our children to go back to school? I did not have a definitive answer. While I had started reading some of the information on this topic my review was far from over. I mentioned some of the pros and cons I had read about up to that point and left it to the parents to decide. However, I had every intention to answer this query in my next post. So here is the opinion I have now constructed based on talking to parents and reading more.
Let me start by saying, I feel fortunate that I only have to ponder this question. My kids are well past school age so I don’t have to make an actual decision. I do still care and realize that this is an extremely important issue for parents as the beginning of the school year rapidly approaches. The children are anxious as well- they miss their friends, teachers, and want to get out the house. They also want to know what the future has in store for them.
Forced Home Schooling due to COVID-19 Pandemic
When the school bell rang and schools began to close due the COVID-19 Pandemic, in March of this year, the apocalypse began. Without intricate advanced planning, the school year quickly morphed into a home schooling situation. It became a nightmare for many parents who had to add the duty of teacher to their already full plates. Some parents had to turn older siblings into surrogate parents, and their own parents or even friends into teachers. Josh Pray, a fitting name, had a whole series praising teachers after his experiences with home schooling. The uncharted waters of home schooling almost led to the coast guard being called in to rescue this dad.
The Internet was replete with videos of parents sharing their new found appreciation for teachers. From a pure sanity sake, some parents began considering the return as a necessary God send. Listen to this mother. I wondered if I connected with these particular parents because that is how I would have been if I had to do home schooling.
What has been your home schooling or distance learning experience?
Returning to the Classroom is not an Easy Decision
By no stretch of the imagination is making a decision to have kids return to the classroom easy. There is no one size fits all. Every child, every household, every school is unique and creates unique challenges or opportunities. Even a group of doctors that CNBC spoke to had varying opinions on the matter. The Axios-Ipsos COVID poll conducted last month reported that 51 % of the parents polled were either very or extremely worried about sending their kids back to school. Another 23% were somewhat concerned. Only 9% said they were not concerned. 89 % of Black parents considered returning to school as a large or moderate risk compared to 80% Latinx parents and 64% of white parents.
In-Class Learning, is this a Trump Card?
We know there are many benefits to in the classroom learning. The importance has been well documented in general and from a social emotional perspective. Some experts and educators feel that the academic learning, as well as mental and physical positives outweigh the risks of returning to the classroom. Prolonged time out of the classroom can widen academic gaps, particularly for the most vulnerable populations- low income and people of color communities. This can be an issue for the groups that can’t afford a personal teacher/tutor or pod learning. Some parents can’t afford to take a prolonged leave or quit their jobs to become a fulltime teacher. Other parents are concerned that they just don’t know enough to help their students succeed through distance learning.
Pediatric Association Weighs in
“Beyond supporting the educational development of children and adolescents, schools play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity.”American Academy of Pediatrics
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has developed some recommendations, Guidance for School Re-entry. The AAP feels there has already been negative impacts on kids since school stopped in the spring. A few of the negative consequences they mention are related to supportive services that are provided at school. In vulnerable populations the school may help alleviate food insecurity and physical inactivity for students and their families as well. There may also be missed opportunities to identify and address various forms of abuse, depression, and suicidal ideation.
The group also argues that kids are not considered super-spreaders or a high risk group. Kids can get the virus and they can die from it. We know that children who don’t have chronic illness are less likely to develop bad outcomes from COVID-19 infections. However, they can potentially infect others, like an older adult who may get sicker. AAP does agree that NO place can guarantee zero transmission.
Considerations When Making a Choice
If your school is open or gives you a choice, there are some ways to help make an informed decision. School Dayz certainly won’t be what we once knew. For parents that like check off lists, CDC has school decision- making tools for parents, caregivers, and guardians. Check out these CDC tools.
Here are 10 issues I advise considering related to returning in 2020 and beyond:
- Infection rate – is there a low infection rate in your city/town? Check with local health authorities or the CDC website. A benchmark would be rates of COVID-19 positivity remaining at 5% or lower for at least 14 days. New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo recently said that his schools will open only if the infection rate in their area was below 5% over a 14 day average. He also went on to say, “we’re not going to use our children as guinea pigs.” Many parents and others are using this analogy.
- Student driven issues – What is your child’s mental state or temperament? Does your child have a learning style that is compatible with virtual learning? Do you see that the social emotional aspects are suffering during the time out of school? Is the virtual day overwhelming? Can your student keep up academically? Will schools support students who don’t have great Internet connection if they are doing remote learning? How will the school support your child’s social emotional component whether learning virtually or in the classroom?
- Confidence that you can educate your child at home – Do you feel you can give your child the education (‘book knowledge’) they need at home utilizing the virtual resources at your disposal? Are you confident that you would have the computer and Internet equipment that you need to insure efficient and effective home learning?
- Sickness rules – the school having guidelines for kids or staff with acute illnesses or symptoms like cough, fever, chills, gastrointestinal. Those who are sick should be encouraged to stay at home and not allowed in school as long as they are sick.
- Spread reduction plan – does the school have a robust plan to reduce spread of COVID-19? These include the 3 W’s as Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. Surgeon General shared at a recent National Medical Association conference. Make sure kids, teachers, and the rest of staff are clear on the three – wash hands and surfaces, watch your distance (the standard is six feet AAP suggests three feet is okay for school), wear masks. Does the school have masks and other PPE as needed for staff and students? If using hand sanitizer, it must be 60% alcohol. Cover coughs and sneezes. Cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing the school at regular intervals should be a part of the plan.
- Physical plant – can the school accommodate the necessities for social distancing, sanitizing, and ventilation? Examine whether the school is big enough to insure there can be distance between children. Will class sizes be limited? Ask about proper ventilation. In a previous post I mentioned how the virus can spread greater distances if the ventilation system is not working properly. Often in lower income /people of color neighborhoods the schools are old and ventilation systems may be antiquated.
- Household contacts- Do you have high risks individuals living in the household? Do you have people older than 65 years old in the house? Are there family members with chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, lung disease, obesity, or immune disorders?
- Safety measures on the bus – will the bus ride to school be safe? If your child has to take the bus it is important to know what precautions will be taken? What will social/ physical distancing look like? Will the driver remind the kids of safety measures?
- School nurse involvement – is there a school nurse available? The school nurse should be equipped to measure the temperature of any student or staff member that becomes ill during the school day. The nurse needs to have a separate area to isolate sick individuals.
- Your mental temperature– how you are feeling about the return to school. Will you be so worried with the kids at school that you can’t perform your job or other tasks? As a parent, you have the right to do what is best to keep your child safe. In the end, you do what you think is right.
The Decision is Yours
We would never have imagined that 2020 School Dayz would have looked like this. Health and safety amidst this COVID-19 pandemic is top of the mind. There are so many factors to consider, including limitations that parents might have at their job, their mental capacity and other. School systems have a lot to consider as well. In the end the parent knows their kid the best. Parents just have to do what they think is right for their child, considering the total being that their child is. The decision made on whether to send their child back to school or not, doesn’t have to be etched in stone. As times change or more information is known the decision can be adjusted. I am hopeful that a vaccine will become available, an election will crown new leaders, and we will approach a life that is closer to what we once knew. Let’s hope that we can all be resilient and recover from this daze of a year, that started with a nightmare, COVID-19.
Will your child or children return to the classroom this year?