Parents everywhere are holding their breath this summer, waiting to see what school in the fall might look like. Sending kids into school everyday seems so risky for everyone involved; and yet, the thought of more weeks or months of remote learning is also emotionally daunting. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is now weighing in—and they say schools should make it a goal to have students physically present in schools.
The AAP’s new guidelines for reopening schools in the fall explain why the organization thinks it is important to get kids back in the classroom:
This is because of what we know about how the virus behaves in kids. It is also because kids who are in school learn more than math, reading and science. They also learn social and emotional skills, get healthy meals and exercise, mental health support and other things that cannot be provided with online learning.
Of course, reopening schools will not come without risk or without the need for precautions to be taken. Although the AAP’s recommendations are less detailed and, in many ways, less stringent than those the CDC released in May, they do offer some familiar tips for teachers, staff and students that include as much distancing and sanitizing as possible.
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To start, I think it’s safe to say that while spreading kids six feet apart may be feasible in some classrooms, it’s not feasible in all classrooms. (Plus, everyone is still mostly indoors, breathing the same air all day, and potentially using common spaces like restrooms, gymnasiums and cafeterias.) But the AAP says spacing kids in the classroom as close as three feet apart “may have similar benefits if students wear cloth face coverings and do not have symptoms of illness.”
And the students themselves can do their part in limiting spread, although that mileage will vary based on their age. The AAP recommends:Children in pre-kindergarten (preschool) should spend time outdoors when possible. Hand washing is especially important, because it may not be possible to keep them 3 to 6 feet apart. Adults should wear cloth face coverings.Elementary students can wear cloth face coverings if they do not touch their mouth or nose. Desks can be 3-6 feet apart, and they should use outdoor spaces when possible.Secondary school students should wear cloth face masks if they can’t stay 6 feet from others. Desks can be 3-6 feet apart. Avoid close contact, go outdoors if possible and spread out during activities like singing and exercising.
Of course, there are other things school staff and administrators can do, depending on each school’s unique set-up or circumstances. That includes:Having teachers rotate among classrooms, rather than students, to cut down on hallway trafficKeeping students in their own classrooms for lunch (and/or eating outdoors when possible)Frequent cleaning and disinfecting of classrooms and common areasAssigned seating on the bus (and encouraging alternate transportation whenever possible)Marking hallways and stairways with one-way arrowsKeeping playground use to small groups
Extra care and attention should also be given to students who utilize school-based services, such as occupational, physical and speech-language therapy, as well as mental health support counseling. Schools should review any Individual Education Programs (IEPs) before school resumes, the AAP says, so that services can begin virtually in advance, if needed.
In the meantime, parents should continue taking kids to their pediatrician for regular check-ups and immunizations.
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