Kids need to be physically in school when they return in the fall, pediatrics group says

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NEW YORK — As states grapple with how to safely start the upcoming school year, the American Academy of Pediatrics is pushing for students to be physically present in classrooms rather than continue in remote learning for the sake of their well-being.

The group, which represents and guides pediatricians across the country, updated its back-to-school recommendations to say evidence shows the academic, mental and physical benefits of in-person learning outweigh the risks from the coronavirus.

“The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” the group said on its website.

“The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.”

Schools are probably not greatly amplifying the spread of coronavirus and children are less likely to become extremely sick from the virus than adults, the pediatrics group added.

While there’s no way to completely eliminate the risk of the virus’ spread, the AAP listed specific recommendations based on the different grade levels.

For example, Pre-Kindergarten schools should focus on hand hygiene, cohorting classes to minimize crossover among children and adults and utilizing outdoor spaces when possible. Face coverings or physical distancing are lower priority as those strategies may be harder to implement on younger children.

But in middle and high schools, universal face coverings should be required when a 6-foot distance is not able to be maintained and desks should be placed 3 to 6 feet apart.

The AAP’s recommendations come as states nationwide unveil their plans for getting America’s 56 million school children back to school in the fall.

Earlier this month, Virginia state officials announced a phased, hybrid approach to reopening K-12 schools that would have strict social distancing measures in place, which could require “alternative schedules that blend in-person and remote learning for students,” according to a news release.

Connecticut also announced that K-12 schools should plan on reopening for all students in the fall. Schools must work to maximize social distancing, including reconfiguring desks to maximize distance, frequent hand washing and requiring face coverings for students and staff, Miguel Cardona, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Education, said at a news conference last week.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also suggested that keeping schools closed in general isn’t necessary.

“In some situations there will be no problem for children to go back to school,” Fauci told CNN earlier this month. “In others, you may need to do some modifications. You know, modifications could be breaking up the class so you don’t have a crowded classroom, maybe half in the morning, half in the afternoon, having children doing alternate schedules.”

The coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of slowing in the US.

Thirty-one states saw an increase in new coronavirus caes this past week compared to the week prior, primarily in the South and the West. Another 15 states held steady to the week prior, and just four states — Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island — saw a decline.

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