In its guidance for school re-entry during COVID-19, the American Academy of Pediatrics noted that it “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
Wichita child advocates agree that in-person schooling has many social, emotional and educational benefits that are challenging to acquire anywhere else. Returning to school is important, but returning to school safely is paramount.
“If parents and teachers can say with confidence that we are going to keep you safe, and this is the plan – prepare children what to expect and be open and honest about what that looks like – kids will do better,” said Kelli Netson-Amore, PhD, associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita.
The same goes for physicians advising parents or their children who want to know if it’s safe to return to in-person schooling. The American Medical Association recommends a three-pronged approach when advising one’s patients.
Consider the available information
John Andrews, MD, the AMA’s vice president for graduate medical education innovations, pointed out that data indicates children appear less likely to contract the disease, and when they do, they tend to recover well. Spread of the disease from asymptomatic children to other children or adults is uncommon. Communicating that to worried parents and presenting the adverse outcomes from keeping children home may outweigh those of sending them back to school, the AMA reports.
Understand it’s a judgment call
There’s going to be a risk, which many parents will point out. Pushing back on those concerns isn’t a role Andrews believes doctors should play. He says the ultimate decision-makers in the lives of children are their parents. He advocates sharing information objectively, and when asked for an opinion, offer it. But it’s important to recognize parents make independent decisions.
Be realistic about precautionary measures
There is continued debate about how COVID presents and affects older children, so the AAP advocates for schools to mandate more preventative measures – such as mask-wearing and physical distancing – in facilities that host older children. But certain children will be more at risk. Keep in mind the risk profile of each child.