The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out with a strong statement in favor of bringing children back to the classroom this fall wherever and whenever they can do so safely. The AAP’s guidance “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
The guidance says “schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being,” and cites “mounting evidence” that transmission of the coronavirus by young children is uncommon, partly because they are less likely to contract it in the first place.
On the other hand, the AAP argues that based on the nation’s experience this past spring, remote learning is likely to result in severe learning loss and increased social isolation. Social isolation, in turn, can breed serious social, emotional and health issues: “child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.”
It says these impacts will be visited more severely on Black and brown children, as well as low-income children and those with learning disabilities.
AAP’s guidance for returning to in-person schooling includes recommendations about physical distancing, cleaning and disinfection, hand-washing, and using outdoor spaces whenever possible.
Have schools done all they can to appropriately plan for in-person attendance of students at all grade levels? We aren’t sure yet. Things schools need to consider as they plan to invite children back into their buildings are details surrounding:
- Physical space. With continued social distancing protocols, how will the average classroom hold a group of 20-30 children? Elementary school children learn in one classroom setting for the entire school day. How is social distancing to work when the average recommended classroom is 900 square feet? I am math challenged, but you calculate space needed for safety.
- Student population. Enrollment and attendance totals vary from school to school and district to district. In primary grades, there is little intermingling among students, except recess and special events and mealtimes. Very little hallway travel. From middle to secondary grades, where school and student sizes increase, more students are usually in attendance at these levels. Your kids are expected to travel through the hallways and up and down stairs together, at least once each hour-going from class to class. There is much opportunity for violating social distancing rules, even if wearing masks.
- Sanitizing practices. The nature of being in a building, a classroom, hallway at school presents concerns about how to best maintain sanitized surfaces and spaces. Even in the elementary setting, though children remain in the same assigned classroom for the entire day, maintaining clean surfaces is a real challenge. At this age, children themselves are learning about personal hygiene on a basic level. They can’t be counted upon to neither adhere to the rules of social distancing, nor reliably mindful of their own hygienic practices. Teachers are thus tasked with continuous cleaning during the day. If your class size has 25 children on your roster, that is a substantial amount of time focused on surface cleaning and each child’s capacity to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing. Not to mention the primary focus on instruction and facilitating learning.
- Medical emergencies. As proposed by many, upon entrance into the school building each day, staff and students are to have a temperature check performed. What is to happen if a teacher becomes ill during the school day? One step further, what if a child becomes ill at some time during the school day? Primary consideration-where is the medical professional on staff to help make important determinations related to physical health and wellness of children? Some schools do not have at least one full-time nurse, and others have part-time, itinerant staff, sort of on loan- a traveler covering multiple schools. The same questions arise concerning mental health professionals in school settings. There are so many schools that do not employ a full-time counselor. This was the situation during ‘normal’ school staff makeup. What happens when a child is ill and needs to be dismissed from school? Working parents and certainly other factors can present challenges to schools. Where is the child kept safe from infection or dismissal to an empty home? Sitting in an office frequented by others throughout the day? Trauma, due to and from the pandemic, circumstances and events and lived experiences in the home or community, continues to gain wide consensus supporting demonstrating sensitivity as a best practice to adopt by pedagogues. Being trauma-informed is not only wise, but as mandated reporters, school staff must be prepared to make necessary referrals if suspected. To whom, alongside state agency guidance, is staff’s primary resource, outside of parents and caregiver? If neither nurse not counselor is present in any school, staff and students are left on their own.
- Class schedules. Because of social distancing, in order to accommodate the standard class size and students in each class, it seems that schools must re-think the way school is scheduled. How many children can safely learn within the classroom environment in respect for physical spacing requirements? Normal class sizes may be counter-intuitive to maintaining necessary space between children. Personal space, in other words has effectively been adjusted from the traditional. This presents the question surrounding how to educate all children safely. The most logical conclusion is to stagger the school day. Perhaps, learning times must be divided into blended formats. A typical class will have to be divided in half, with one half actually present in the school, while the other half are learning virtually. Instruction still applies to all at the same time. The environment is different. This is a different paradigm as opposed to lengthening the school day.We alternate the days in which students come into the school, thereby cutting the class size, while students remain in the same class itself. This brings us to another consideration of the way we deliver instruction. A part of teacher training involves videotaping lessons. In the classroom, teachers will need to be equipped with recording devices in order to deliver instruction to all;some from home, others in the classroom.
There are many more logistical considerations and adjustments needed in planning for children’s return to school. Hopefully, these are some of which are examined during this planning process. We want students to return to some ‘normalcy’ in education at school, but it can’t be effectively organized learning, within the new framework of ‘safety’, without a full re-examination of how learning and teaching is framed in the best interest of everyone, prioritizing the children in our charge.
Please feel free to comment and make your concerns known to everyone. Certainly, it will help schools plan to keep all children safe and growing in their knowledge of the world around them and developing a healthy sense of self.