Why experts are urging caution before opening schools in the fall
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
School's out for the summer in most places and districts are now focusing on how to prepare for classes in the fall. While the number of new nationwide COVID-19 cases is abating, and a large percentage of the afflicted have recovered, new cases are still happening.
President Trump has urged that schools across the country should be opened ASAP. He tweeted statements made by Fox News' Steve Hilton, who said that the school closures are doing unnecessary damage, and districts should go ahead and start classes.
On the other hand, experts, including the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, advise caution. The unprecedented spread of the virus has us at a disadvantage. We still don't know much about it, which makes cautious moves prudent.
Dr. Fauci stated that we should be careful about sending our kids back to school, pointing to the emergence of severe inflammatory illness in a handful of children believed to be associated with the coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an advisory message about the severe inflammatory condition (MIS-C), which is something to keep in mind though coronavirus is typically less harmful in children in most cases. Young adults could also be affected. There have been at least four cases of apparent MIS-C deaths in recent weeks. The MIS-C condition has been likened to Kawasaki disease. Symptoms include persistent fever, rashes, hypotension, vomiting, diarrhea, and elevated inflammatory markers.
Psychologists agree that no amount of distance learning can replicate the educational, psychosocial, and emotional psychosocial benefits of in-person learning. The lack of social interaction has affected students' mental health and resuming life as it was would be ideal. Apart from children losing ground academically, schools are also essential for critical social, special education, and medical services to many kids and for providing free meals around the country.
However, we are talking about a deadly virus that has the potential to cause more havoc. Most experts agree that we need more COVID-19 research and information to guide decision-making for reopening U.S. schools.
For instance, there is no premise that we can know how safe going back to school would be for children with pre-existing conditions. Once learning resumes in school buildings, asymptomatic kids could spread the virus to families, students, teachers, and school staff.
A better understanding of the risks would be useful before schools resume so that we knew how best to assess them and manage them at school. We need to understand how staff and students with underlying health conditions can return to school and interact with students who may be asymptomatic but infectious.
Some countries are experimenting with approaches to reopening schools. A few plan to bring back older students first since they are more likely to follow the rules and observe physical distancing. Others want to bring back primary school children first since the incidence and severity of the disease appear lower than in older students. They are also experimenting with a few day rotations of in-person learning with a blend of remote learning.
Regardless of how and when schools reopen, social distancing may stay for a long time. Most schools will make masks mandatory, put up hand-sanitizing stations, reduce class sizes to allow for social distancing, and break between scheduled appointments. Contact tracing and rapid and repeated coronavirus testing of students and staff may be adopted as well. However, running school buses, carpools, special education, and teaching students at risk will be challenging.
The pandemic has been a turning point for the role of technology in public, K-12 education. A range of technological innovations in education, from AI- and VR-based classes to personalized learning, could be the answer to running remote and in-person learning in parallel.
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