By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Public University
Parents across the nation are facing the latest challenge of the coronavirus pandemic — whether their children can safely return to school in the fall. Many school districts have plans to reopen schools within the next several weeks, so a decision will be needed soon.
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While school districts may vary in their preparations, the vast majority are taking precautions such as requiring students to wear face masks, strategically placing hand sanitizing stations throughout the school, screening for COVID-19 symptoms, and employing different forms of social distancing.
However, no one truly knows what is going to happen when, or if, students will return to school. This situation has many parents debating whether to send their children back to school or to opt for a remote learning program, homeschooling or a tutor.
Having children return to school has a positive impact on them through the socialization and the collaborative learning environment. At the same time, going back to school increases the risk of exposure for the children and for other family members who reside with them.
Remote Learning Has Both Advantages and Disadvantages for Children
As a father of two children, I can understand the stress and concern of not knowing what impact sending them back to school will have in the long term compared to the advantages and disadvantages of remote learning. In my children’s school district, parents have the choice of either having their children attend class in school or use remote learning in real time. Virtual learning reduces the risk of exposure to the coronavirus and might provide a learning environment that is equivalent to being in class. However, it may come with consequences.
According to the American Psychological Association, limited access to peers and classmates can impact children’s emotional well-being, which can have an adverse impact on a child’s learning and development. Deborah Stipek, an education professor at Stanford University, mentions that “school settings where children can interact and learn to cooperate with peers may be important for developing social skills.” With the uncertainty of the pandemic and the COVID-19 illness it causes, it is important to reflect on what we already know.
The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that children represent only 9.1% of all coronavirus cases in states that report by age. Based on the data available, coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths in children are uncommon. As of August 6, a total of 380,174 positive cases of coronavirus in children were reported.
However, there has been a 90% increase in child cases since July 9. In terms of fatalities associated with children, 19 states have reported no child deaths; based on the states that provide such data, 0 to 0.5% of all juvenile coronavirus cases resulted in death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most children who have tested positive for COVID-19 appear to be asymptomatic or have mild cases. However, the CDC warns that children are also at risk for severe COVID-19. A report by the CDC that studied coronavirus cases from March 1 to July 25 found an increased number of hospitalization of children. The report noted that one-third of children hospitalized due to the coronavirus were admitted to the ICU and 42 percent of them had one or more underlying medical conditions, obesity being one of the most prevalent.
Reviewing What Has Happened in School Districts Can Be Helpful for Parents’ Decision Making
Another reasonable approach to help parents determine whether their children should return to school or continue their remote learning is to review what has occurred in the handful of schools that have already opened. The vast majority plan to open between the middle of August and early September.
For example, Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia had staff return to school early for planning. The school district reported that 260 employees either tested positive for the coronavirus or were in quarantine due to possible exposure.
Similarly, North Paulding High School in Georgia opened on August 3. Three days later, the school was forced to close for disinfecting because six students and three staff members tested positive for COVID-19. In Indiana, Lanesville Junior-Senior High School opened on July 29 and by August 3 four students had tested positive with several dozen others in quarantine.
While it is too early to know if these troubling trends will continue as other schools open, it is a good idea for parents to research their school district’s contingency plans should there be an outbreak of positive cases. For example, according to the California Department of Public Health Guidance, a school would be required to close if at least 5% of the student body and staff were diagnosed with the coronavirus within a 14-day period. Considering the size of some California schools, even 5% is a lot of children being infected before the school would be required to shut down.
Some childcare facilities that have been open throughout the pandemic for parents who must go to work have been very effective in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks. One example is the Regional Enrichment Center in New York City, which cared for 16 children at the beginning of the pandemic. As of July, it was caring for over 130 children ranging from three-year-olds to tenth graders without one coronavirus case.
Speaking to School Administrators and Visiting Schools Prior to Reopening Is Also Useful
One strategy that I found effective in determining whether my children would return to school was speaking to the vice principal and visiting the school before it opens to see firsthand what the steps are being taken to keep the children safe. My visit gave me the opportunity to discuss my concerns and to make a decision based on all the information available on a national and local level.
In conclusion, while I have found the decision to send my children to back to campus to be very difficult, I have decided to let them return to class. Another factor that contributed to my decision to let my children return to class is the low number of coronavirus cases in my community. For others, it is likely to be a decision based on guidance from their local school districts and the local risk based on active cases in the community.
About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been involved in homeland security for over two decades and he is an associate professor at American Public University. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States and Central America on the topic of human trafficking. Most recently, he presented at the International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019.
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