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Should Kids Go Back to School During a Global Pandemic?

by Carissa Andrews  -  August 17th, 2020

Photo Credit: by Carissa Andrews
Photo Credit: by Carissa Andrews

Around the world, anxiety levels are high as schools reopen amid a global pandemic. Parents, teachers, and students are all facing the decision on how they want the 2020-2021 school year to look. And honestly, it’s no wonder. With so much left up in the air, most of us are wondering which is the lesser of two evils – returning our kids to in-person schooling, with the chance of coming into contact with the coronavirus, or having them stay quarantined at home, which will keep them safer, but perhaps detrimentally impact their education or their mental health.

When it all comes down to it, parents will likely make their decision based on two factors: the needs of the family and the safety plans presented by the school. That is certainly the case in our household, where we have four kids going to four different school. Tensions are high for all of us, as we try to weigh the options that are best for each kid, as well as our family as a whole. This is no easy task, let me tell you. Two of our kids are adept online learners, while the other two need more tactical in-person teaching for things to sink in. But if we keep two kids home and send the other two to in-person learning (even if only part-time), we are in no better place than if we sent them all back to school.

According to a British Columbia poll, 41% of parents would like to see a mixture of online and in-person classes. While roughly 27% would prefer their kids go back to in-person lessons full-time and the remaining 27% prefer only distance learning at this time. In many cases, the choice may be taken out of the parent’s hands. Allowing children to stay at home and do distance learning can take its toll on already stretched thin parents, particularly if they, themselves, are working from home. Then, even under the best of circumstances, parents aren’t trained to be educators, and many may have no desire to make that sort of transition. In addition, some families may not be able to afford having children stay home, even if they want them to. Roughly 46% of BC parents don’t have the proper childcare in place, if their children need to stay home.

How Do We Keep Kids Safe at School?

As most of us know, schools are vital for a child’s learning and overall wellbeing. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly supported re-entry into in-person learning this fall, should it be deemed safe by local experts.

Having kids return to in-person learning can be safe, if proper precautions are put in place and an eye is kept on the community’s rate of transmission. Epidemiologists agree that the biggest thing to watch for is a low rate of transmission in the community. If it’s not found locally, it can’t make its way into schools.

For example, some Minnesota schools will allow in-person classes this fall as long as case rates remain below 50 to every 10,000 people per fourteen-day case rate range. Should those numbers elevate, they will switch to an online only lesson plan. This has helped to alleviate my mind, but it hasn’t made our decision any easier. Obviously, we want what’s best for the kids, but there are so many variables beyond simply the case rates.

In general, kids are less likely to be infected by the coronavirus and thankfully, life-threatening symptoms are rare in children. However, as we’re seeing with some of the schools opening already, outbreaks can still happen. Just look at schools in Georgia and Indiana. Yet, schools in Europe and Asia have reopened their schools and for the most part, avoided any significant outbreaks.

Helping Kids Social Distance

In Ontario, school boards have access to reserve funds to help them reduce elementary classroom sizes to help with social distancing. The idea is less kids in the classroom will mean less chance of getting sick.

In the United States, social distancing rules and reduced class sizes vary wildly. Again, I my state of Minnesota, many schools are operating out of a hybrid model where they swap between in-person and online learning throughout the week. In essence, they break the kids into two groups (also called cohorts) to reduce class sizes by half. Mondays and Wednesdays one group is in school while the other studies online, Tuesdays and Thursdays they swap. Fridays are online learning for both groups to provide the school time to clean and sanitize fully each week.

If your child will be attending in-person classes part-time or full-time, the CDC does have a PDF download with information on planning for in-person classes. Its action plans cover many bases and might help you think of things you may not have otherwise considered. I’m definitively thankful for those because if we do send some or all of our kids back to the school, we’ll need to know how to keep them safe at school and on the bus.

The Issue of Masks

At present time, in Canada, masks aren’t mandatory in all areas. However, there are a few provinces that require them for certain age brackets, for instance, grades 4-12. Before sending your kids back to school, it’s important to know what the rules are in your area. In British Columbia, for instance, middle school and secondary schools will require kids to wear masks in high-traffic areas.

In the United States, where cases are much higher, many schools are making masks mandatory. If your child is returning to in-person lessons, the best way to know for sure if your child needs to wear a mask in school is to visit their website to see if they’ve posted the information publicly. If they haven’t, talk to the school administrator directly.

Some teachers who have returned to school are stressing the importance of having not just a single mask, but multiples that can be switched out throughout the day and then washed daily without damaging them or changing their shape. How this will work with young children, on the other hand is questionable at best. Our youngest is going on six and will be starting Kindergarten this fall. Even with shorter school days, how do they expect to keep this age group wearing them? Plans for our school are still being worked on, but we hope whatever they come up with will keep our son safe, should he join his classmates in school.

Hygiene Will Be Key

Since the novel coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets, another key way kids can avoid contracting it is by keeping up with good hygiene. It’s not always an easy task, but a necessary one. Help your kids practice proper handwashing techniques and remind them to wash them frequently; particularly after sneezing, coughing, touching the face or someone else, and before and after eating. Make sure your kids go prepared with hand sanitizer (60% or more alcohol) for times when hand washing isn’t readily accessible.

The schools also need to play a role in good hygiene. Talk to your school administrator or principal about ways they will be working to ensure classrooms are kept clean and free from germs. With small kids, this is no easy chore on the best of days, but increasing vigilance and decreasing class sizes may make this easier.

If Your Child Shows Symptoms

During this time, erring on the side of caution is your best course of action. Most children who do get COVID-19 recover in one to two weeks and some don’t even show symptoms. Many schools around the world will be requiring daily checks for children. If they have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, they shouldn’t go to school. Other signs include sore throat, cough, diarrhea, severe headache, vomiting, or body aches.

If your child is showing any sickness symptoms, keep them home and monitor their progress. Many school districts require your child stay home until it’s been at least ten days since symptoms began, they have had no fever (without requiring NSAIDs or other cold medicines) for three days, and/or they have tested negative for COVID-19. During this time away from class, many schools will provide an online learning option to help students make up assignments they may have missed during quarantine.

So, what about siblings? Many experts agree that all members of the family should quarantine if someone in their home is sick. While this might seems like an unnecessary burden, it could mean protecting the community at large and reducing exposure to others at school. If the sibling(s) aren’t showing any sign of sickness, they could be tested for COVID-19 and return to school.

Our family knows just how hard the decision is to send kids back to school. We’re still grappling with it, but time is also ticking down. Regardless of what you decide, the important thing to remember is that there are many variables at play. What’s right for one family might not be for another. Do what’s best for you and your family and remember, we have never been through a global pandemic with a response quite like this. There’s still a lot to learn about the coronavirus and what it’s capable of. In the meantime, we can only do the best we can with the information we have.

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The purpose of the above content is to raise awareness only and does not advocate treatment or diagnosis. This information should not be substituted for your physician's consultation and it should not indicate that use of the drug is safe and suitable for you or your (pet). Seek professional medical advice and treatment if you have any questions or concerns.
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