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Statement regarding school opening considerations from Michigan Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics
 

June 29, 2020: The Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MIAAP) supports in-person education to the maximum extent possible to promote the overall health and wellness of the children of Michigan. We encourage the State of Michigan and school districts to construct COVID-related safety plans that prioritize this goal.

 

The available data appear to support that children, especially preschool and elementary-aged, are at lower risk of contracting COVID-19 and are less likely to be primary vectors for the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, young people without underlying health conditions rarely become seriously ill from COVID-19. Despite the disproportionately small effect of COVID-19 on children, the public health response has had a disproportionately large effect on children’s lives. School closures have put the mental and social health of children at risk, in addition to affecting their educational trajectories.

 

While many Michigan schools did an outstanding job adjusting to a virtual learning environment, virtual learning is not comparable to in-person learning for many students. A return to school is most essential for the youngest and most at-risk students. A virtual learning environment highlights existing inequities, leaving behind the most vulnerable. In our discussions with parents in our pediatric offices, we have seen large discrepancies in available at-home learning support, which will assuredly increase the achievement gap. In particular, younger and special needs students rely heavily on having a constantly-available, skilled adult at home to scaffold their child’s virtual learning, and an appropriate person for this role rarely exists.

 

Additionally, schools provide important support services, including meals, mental health support, therapy services for special education students, instruction for English language learners, and school-based health services. If students are at home, this support structure is greatly reduced.

 

In consideration of how to safely reopen schools, many trade-offs will be necessary. One of the most significant trade-offs in planning for in-person instruction is with regard to the challenge of providing strict 6-foot spacing between students. If such distancing were mandated, maximizing in-person learning would be severely limited in many schools. Thus, to allow movement towards the goal of eventual full in-person learning, we advocate for some flexibility in distancing requirements while incorporating other risk-mitigation interventions, including symptom-screening, use of face coverings, forward-facing seating, use of partitions, hand sanitizing and other hygiene measures, avoiding shared items, student cohorting, and collaboration with local health departments for contact tracing. Students benefit from being in class, and all efforts should be made to allow for maximal school attendance.

 

School plans can expect to require adjustment as COVID incidence changes and as data continues to emerge. We encourage a response to COVID cases of illness at the most targeted level possible, avoiding closing entire schools, districts, or regions unless absolutely necessary. As new research becomes available, processes should be reassessed to prioritize the health and safety of students and staff.

 

We thank our Governor and her administration for their tireless efforts to minimize the impact of COVID-19 in Michigan, and we thank the staff and administrations of our schools for their creativity, flexibility, and enduring commitment to our children. From our pediatric perspective at the intersection of child health and development, we look to you to help prioritize in-person education for Michigan’s children this fall.

 

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2020 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 06/30/20 21:20:43 -0700.

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