Local pediatrician weighs in on in-person schooling

Published: Jul. 15, 2020 at 3:34 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s a question on the minds of many parents, teachers and staff: should children be returning to school in-person this year?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has said it “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”

Many pediatricians in Alaska agree. Dr. Pati Clay, a pediatrician with the Southcentral Foundation says evidence shows children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults. And added that the benefits of getting students back into the classroom outweigh the risks.

“What we have seen over the past several months is that there are a lot of harms in terms of keeping kids at home, one is social isolation, another is increased risk of abuse in their home, another would be decreased physical activity, and finally lack of reliable meals. And so what we are seeing is our most vulnerable population, those are kids with special needs, kids living in poverty are really suffering,” Dr. Clay said.

According to the CDC’s guidelines, the risk of COVID-19 spread increases in school settings as follows:

  • Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events.
  • More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities, and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).
  • Highest Risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.

Dr. Clay says schools should prioritize in-person classes if it’s safe to do so. The Anchorage School District is proposing to have fewer classroom days and shorter hours.

“We are all going to have to be really flexible over the school year, those numbers and days back are going to change constantly, I think it’s a moving target,” she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children but should be done carefully to protect the health of all students, teachers and staff.

“Local school leaders, public health experts, educators and parents must be at the center of decisions about how and when to reopen schools, taking into account the spread of COVID-19 in their communities and the capacities of school districts to adapt safety protocols to make in-person learning safe and feasible. For instance, schools in areas with high levels of COVID-19 community spread should not be compelled to reopen against the judgment of local experts. A one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for return to school decisions,” Dr. Sally Goza, president of AAP said.

There are also several things that parents can do to prepare their children for the upcoming school year.

“Mask wearing is one, two would be really talking to your kids about the importance of hand washing, hand sanitizing, and trying not to touch their friends or their peers which is challenging, and number three, I think as well is to really work with the school on identifying when your child should stay home,” she said.

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