The case for in-person schooling

As school districts across the U.S. deliberate whether and how to reopen this fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics caused a stir this week with its guidelines strongly recommending that students be “physically present in school” as much as possible.
On the surface, the advice may seem to buck the trend of the A.A.P.’s generally cautious approach to health and safety, but the organization believes there are far more benefits to having students in classrooms than keeping them at home. Research already shows that forced remote learning during the pandemic has set students back months and further entrenched racial and economic disparities.
“I think the document really clearly acknowledges what our reporting shows, which is that the risk of catching the coronavirus is not the only risk that children and families face right now,” Dana Goldstein, a national education reporter for The Times, told us. “I also read it as a parent. I am one who is excited for my child to go back to school if the proper safety precautions are followed.”
The downsides of not returning to the classroom go far beyond educational deficits. The group warned of students developing behavioral health issues and having less access to physical activity, socialization and meal programs, while teachers have fewer opportunities to identify signs of mistreatment at home.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised six feet between students’ desks, but the A.A.P. calls for just three feet, pointing to face-coverings and frequent hand-washing to lower the risk of infection. The new advice draws on scientists’ understanding of the virus, which so far indicates that children rarely become severely ill and are less likely to infect others.
Dana said she had spoken to many teenagers who seemed universally eager to get back to school, though some teachers she interviewed were worried about returning to buildings with hundreds of people.
“There will be cases of Covid-19 in schools even where they make their best efforts,” Dr. Sean O’Leary, a pediatrics infectious disease specialist who helped write the guidelines, told Dana. “But we have to balance that with the overall health of children.”
Schools before bars: In a Times Op-Ed article, an epidemiologist and a pediatrician argue that reopening businesses that pose a major risk of community spread should be a lower priority than reopening schools.

New York Times