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This back to school season parents are grappling with a big decision, whether to have their children learn in the classroom or at home. The coronavirus pandemic closed schools in early May forcing many teachers, students and families to adjust to remote learning. Now summer is almost over and there is no end in sight for coronavirus.
With many school start dates on the horizon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently came out with their guidelines to safely open schools in the fall. Shortly after the Texas Education Agency released their guidelines. But many are critical of the push for in-person learning.
“Our first responsibility before we teach, before students can learn, they have to be safe. Our educators have to be safe,” said Luke Amphlett, a teacher at Burbank High School. “We can’t educate youth if we’re not going to look after human life first.”
What is the risk factor for children?
According to Dr. Ruth Berggren, an infectious disease specialist at the UT Health San Antonio’s Long School of Medicine, the risk of infection and spread of the coronavirus is fairly low among children.
In Bexar County, 12% of cases are among people under 20. Local data does not specify how many cases are in people under 16. According to the city of San Antonio’s website, two people under the age of 19 have died from the disease.
“Since the onset of this whole pandemic, we’ve seen that children are less affected than adults in terms of the severity of the disease and the frequency of the disease. And so less than two percent of cases are in children,” Berggren said.
She cites a recent study by the Official Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics that shows less than one percent of coronavirus cases are children under the age of 16. Berggren clarified that while there isn’t any evidence to show that children transmit the virus like adults, that does not mean it’s not possible.
Berrgren believes the guidelines listed by the TEA can be enough to keep children safe in the classroom. Some of the guidelines are social distancing, monitoring handwashing, hiring more cleaning staff, wearing masks and staggering drop-off and pick-up times.
But with consistently rising cases of COVID-19 in Bexar County, most parents are still worried and don’t plan to send their children to campus, according to a recent nonscientific poll on KSAT.com. San Antonio ISD said that more than two-thirds of parents said they didn’t feel comfortable returning their children to the classroom.
“Parents are struggling to make a really important decision because school is important. Their children’s health and safety is critical. Their family’s health and safety is critical,” said Tami Logdon, a certified child counselor with the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas.
Remote learning vs. classroom learning. What should parents consider?
Safety first: Dr. Berrgren says students with underlying health issues are more vulnerable. “If those parents are able to keep their kids in a remote learning situation, then I think we’ve greatly reduced the harm that could come to our schoolchildren population,” Berggren said.
As parents weigh their options, Logdon says there are a number of things to consider.
“It is really important for parents to think of their children as individuals and not to assume that what suits one child might be the best decision for each of their children,” she said.
Lodgon said remote learning might be best for some children while some might need hands-on learning or social settings to thrive. She advises parents to involve their children in the decision-making process.
“Communicating with your children does not mean communicating every fear and worry that you have yourself. But it does mean checking in with your kids and saying, what have you read? What have you heard from other people? And inviting your kids to have a conversation with you so that you can determine what their individual fears might be.”
Logdon says it’s important to watch for signs of anxiety around the type of schooling parents choose.
“A child can’t always tell you I’m worried or I’m afraid. So things like difficulty sleeping or being really irritable or even oppositional about things... Sometimes what that means is a child is feeling a whole lot of anxiety over what’s being asked of them, and they can’t express it any other way,” Logdon explained.
One thing she says could heighten that anxiety is being required to wear masks in school. Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s current state mandate that masks be worn in public does not apply to children under the age of ten. However, TEA says individual school districts can require that all students and staff wear masks.
“We need to think about positive ways to talk to kids about shielding themselves from from the virus that we don’t want to catch and that their mask is their shield,” Logdon recommends normalizing the use of masks by trying on different types to find the most comfortable and modeling them around the house.
If parents opt to send their child back to the classroom, both Lodgon and Dr. Berrgren say making sure students understand these safety measures is crucial to keeping everyone safe and slowing the spread.
“What can parents do? Talk to the kids. Break these behaviors down into understandable small soundbites that the kids can understand. Get them to say these things. I will keep six feet apart. I will cover my face. Help them understand that this is for everybody’s benefit,” said Dr. Berrgren.
As listed in the TEA guidelines, school districts have until at least one week before the start of the semester to post their own individual guidelines.