Is It Safe to Send Your Child Back to School?

Dear Rich Lifer,

Parents, caregivers and guardians are being confronted with new and difficult choices when it comes to sending their children back to school this Fall.

Schools play a crucial role in the development of children from their educational achievement to their health and wellbeing.

As schools begin to reopen across the nation, parents, guardians, and caregivers will be making decisions based on numerous factors, such as individual preferences, health concerns, work situations, and school considerations.

These decisions go beyond just academics. Access to school meal programs, social services, extended day childcare, extra-curricular activities, social-emotional support from peers and educators, and transportation are all key factors in family’s decisions about schooling.

The pandemic has been especially hard for Black, Latinx, Native American/Alaska Native children and adolescents, and those living in low-income families.

Some school districts will likely continue with remote learning or some hybrid blend of in-person and remote.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently made a general recommendation that children physically return to school for the social and emotional benefits and for access to a better learning environment, especially for students with special needs.

However, according to healthychildren.org, one in 5 teens cannot complete schoolwork at home because they do not have a computer or internet connection.

The AAP also advised that schools need funding to provide safety measures for in-person learning and to be able to support all students in virtual learning plans.

Coronavirus cases are still on the rise in many states, leading parents to question if a return to physical school is indeed the safest option.

Today we will outline four questions, put together by experts in both education and COVID-19 including NBC medical correspondent Dr. John Torres, that will hopefully help parents make an informed decision when it comes to their plans for the upcoming school year.

1. How Old Are Your Children?

New scientific evidence seems to suggest that children under the age of 10 are less likely to get infected or transmit COVID-19 than older children or adults.

However, according to Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, the risk is not zero.

Younger children are easier to isolate in a single classroom whereas middle and high school students tend to move around the school more switching classes or even buildings throughout the day.

Younger children also benefit more from the social aspect of being in a classroom while older children have other ways to socialize and can handle virtual learning better.

However, age can pose a problem if the child is not old enough to follow the necessary safety protocols: Can they wear a mask reliably and keep appropriate social distance?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports, “As of July 21, 2020, 6.6% of reported COVID-19 cases and <0.1% of COVID-19-related deaths are among children and adolescents less than 18 years of age in the United States.”

2. How Healthy is Your Household?

Parents need to ask themselves what is best for their child from both a medical and developmental standpoint.

Dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease specialist and the director of clinical ethics at the University of Vermont Medical Center, states, “Certainly, in the middle of this epidemic, I would not send a higher risk child, like one in treatment for leukemia, back to school right now, even in a ‘safer’ state like Vermont.”

For parents of special needs students this can be an incredibly difficult decision. For some children being physically in a school can give them better tools and resources to learn. For others, being at home can be helpful as it removes distractions and stressors.

The CDC reports, “There are more COVID-19 cases reported among children with intellectual and developmental disabilities than those without.”
Also consider the other members of your household, such as elderly family members or members with increased risk of severe illness.

Will they be at increased risk of illness if you send your child back to school?

3. If You Were Required to Quarantine Starting Tomorrow, Would You Be Able To?

Until there is a vaccine, there is no way to be absolutely sure your child will not contract COVID-19 at school.

Before deciding to physically send kids back to school, plan for the very likely scenario that your child — and, therefore, you — will at some point have to quarantine at least once this school year.

If you are an essential or front-line worker, that might be a chance you cannot take.

If a second wave hits this school year, will you still feel safe with your child attending school?

4. Can You Afford Not To Send Your Child To School?

For some families, the reality is that it’s not economically feasible to keep their children at home or do full virtual learning.

There are many single parents who will have to send their kids to school because they are the sole provider for their children.

Dr. Lahey also notes the converse situation in which parents who can afford to keep their kids at home could actually be helping by contributing to smaller classroom sizes for those that don’t have a choice about returning.

Dr. Torres says it’s important to teach your children the “three W’s” before returning to the classroom — wear a mask, watch your six feet of social distancing, and wash your hands throughout the day.

If you are still feeling unsure about making the right decision for both your child and the rest of your family, the CDC has released a thorough checklist designed to help parents, caregivers, and guardians weigh the risks and benefits of available educational options.

You can find this guide if you click here.

Ultimately, Dr. Lahey states, “There’s no perfect decision. Just say, ‘I’m going to see what is possible and see what feels right and makes sense for our family this year,’ knowing that next year will be completely different.”

To a Richer Life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team

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