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Weighing the Safety of Opening Schools

April 22, 2021 • Our Blog • General Health
A recent survey of pediatric health experts shows that many believe schools can now be opened safely — but many local leaders disagree.  Since the coronavirus pandemic first began in the spring of 2020, one of the biggest and most consistent debates both locally and on the national scale has been about the safety of reopening schools. There’s no denying that closing schools was the wise choice at the start of the pandemic, but parents, officials, and pediatricians alike are starting to wonder if it continues to be the right decision in light of our new understanding of the pandemic.  In a recent survey conducted by the New York Times, 175 pediatric disease experts shared their thoughts on the safety of reopening schools. At a time when around half of the nation’s students are continuing to do most of their learning at home, their thoughts can provide some helpful insight on the best course of action moving forward. 

Is it Safe to Open Schools?

This is the million dollar question and the answer, according to the surveyed experts, is yes — assuming certain conditions are met. As with every change we’ve faced as a result of the pandemic, there are a large number of factors that need to be considered when deciding whether or not it’s safe to open schools. However, these pediatric disease experts believe that the risks of opening elementary schools are minimal even before students are vaccinated (assuming that standard protective protocols — including social distancing, constant mask-wearing, ventilation, and avoidance of large group activities — are followed).  While these experts are largely backing the safe opening of schools, their views are at odds with those of many key players on the ground. Despite growing evidence that shows children spread COVID-19 at far lower rates than adults and that schools are not a major source of spread for children or adults, policymakers, teachers’ unions, school administrators, parent groups, and more continue to worry about the safety of reopening schools.  Given the many months of constant rhetoric about the dangers of the coronavirus, it’s understandable that these groups would worry about inviting any more risk for themselves or their children. At the same time, many health experts point out that keeping schools closed comes with its own significant risks. Not only does remote learning result in poorer education outcomes, the level of isolation students are experiencing could have long-lasting negative effects on their mental and physical health.  When considering both sides of this equation, the vast majority of the surveyed pediatric health experts supported opening schools. They also said schools should only be closed when there are known cases within the school itself — not based on rising case numbers in the larger community. However, this may not be everyone’s point of view, and it’s important that everyone knows what to do to keep themselves and their children safe.

Staying Safe and Keeping Learning on Track

The surveyed experts agreed that the best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within schools is by having children wear masks and social distance at all times. Parents should also make sure the school is implementing measures to avoid crowds in spaces like hallways and the cafeteria before they send their children back.  If your children aren’t going back to school yet, it’s important that you take steps to help keep your child’s learning on track and help them maintain their mental and physical health. In addition to taking breaks from the screen where possible to avoid fatigue, you should try to spend some time outdoors engaging in physical activities. If possible, you should see if you could add some social interaction into your child’s life, whether it’s by going to the playground or creating a pod that includes another child the same age as yours.  With so much constantly changing when it comes to our understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and confused about what the right choice is for the safety and wellbeing of your child. At Kids’ Health, a leading pediatric clinic serving the Beverly, Massachusetts area, our specialists can be a resource for families navigating education during COVID-19. If you want to bring your child in, call us or reach out online to schedule an in-person or telehealth appointment today. ...