Preparations for a safe reopening must begin with a comprehensive strategy to contain the virus in the communities where it is currently thriving, and – as health experts have said since the start of the pandemic – containment must be widely and systematically adopted around the country if the virus is to stop spreading from one community to another.
Teachers, students and parents (and parents’ employers) should also remain as flexible as possible. Some schools may be able to reopen and then have to close if the virus re-emerges, and some schools may choose to adopt hybrid models where students engage in in-person learning for part of the school week and virtual learning for rest.
As communities, we also need to make sure that all schools – not just those in wealthy neighborhoods – have the resources to reopen safely this fall. Failure to do so would further widen disparities in education and leave children in already vulnerable communities further than their peers.
Science and facts, not fear or threats, must guide our choices. The recent recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics for the in-person reopening of local schools are based on the documented benefits of school for children and their families, as well as on the understanding that coronavirus is a very different disease in children than adults. The data consistently show that children are less likely to be symptomatic of or develop complications from Covid-19. Children also appear less likely to be infected with SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes Covid-19 when exposed.
And there is no doubt that school is good for children, not only for their education, but also for their development and their mental and physical health. It is also a place where many children receive health care from nurses and school doctors, receive nutritious meals, and where abuse and neglect are often first detected.
Yet while the data are reassuring and the benefits of attending school in person are clear, children simply do not exist in a vacuum: they need parents to drop them off and pick them up, teachers to teach them. and babysitters – sometimes grandparents – to help. The list goes on. The risk of acquiring Covid-19 for adults appears to be higher in other adults than in children, and each of these interactions between adults increases the risk that they will be exposed to – and ultimately contract – the virus that causes Covid -19.
It is unfair to ask parents to send their children to school and to ask teachers, many of whom have their own families, to come forward to teach them, as the virus continues to spread in communities across the country. If we are to seriously reopen schools everywhere, we must first be serious about containing this virus.
Now is the time to spread consistent and responsible messages around face covers. The time has also come to improve test availability and turnaround times and, more importantly, if we want to get children back to school safely, now is the time to invest in these schools, without threaten their funding.