American Academy of Pediatrics 'strongly' supports students returning to schools in fall |

American Academy of Pediatrics 'strongly' supports students returning to schools in fall

Tommy Wiita & Callan Gray
Updated: June 30, 2020 10:39 PM
Created: June 30, 2020 12:04 PM

The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization that represents 67,000 pediatricians, has recently shown strong support for getting kids back in schools physically for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

On Tuesday, the organization released its own recommendations and guidance for schools working on fall plans while keeping COVID-19 precautions in mind.

"...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 release stated, in part.

The AAP listed the following as key principles for reentry policies to take note of:

  • School policies must be flexible and nimble in responding to new information and administrators must be willing to refine approaches when specific policies are not working.
  • It is critically important to develop strategies that can be revised and adapted depending on the level of viral transmission in the school and throughout the community and done with close communication with state and/or local public health authorities and recognizing the differences between school districts, including urban, suburban, and rural districts.
  • Policies should be practical, feasible and appropriate for child and adolescent's developmental stage.
  • Special considerations and accommodations to account for the diversity of youth should be made, especially for our vulnerable populations, including those who are medically fragile, live in poverty, have developmental challenges, or have special health care needs or disabilities, with the goal of safe return to school.
  • No child or adolescents should be excluded from school unless required in order to adhere to local public health mandates or because of unique medical needs. Pediatricians, families and schools should partner together to collaboratively identify and develop accommodations when needed.
  • School policies should be guided by supporting the overall health and well-being of all children, adolescents, their families and their communities. These policies should be consistently communicated in languages other than English, if needed, based on the languages spoken in the community, to avoid marginalization of parents/guardians who are of limited English proficiency or do not speak English at all.

The organization adds that time away from school can create social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify issues children are experiencing, such as physical or sexual abuse, substance abuse and depression. In addition to keeping staff and students 6 feet apart as much as possible, AAP also advises staggering drop-offs and pickups, doing drop-off and pickups outside when weather permitting, keeping parents out of school buildings and installing physical barriers in spaces that can't accommodate physical distancing.

The AAP also provides specific information for schools based on age (Pre-kindergarten, elementary schools, secondary schools and special education). To see the full list, click here.

The Minnesota Department of Education and Department of Health released guidelines on June 18 on how to plan for the upcoming school year. Those plans are to be centered on scenarios that include distance learning, in-person learning and a hybrid.

Daily Coronavirus Briefing: MDH releases 2020-2021 planning guide for schools, long term care visitation guidelines amended

A final decision on how Minnesota schools should move forward with the upcoming school year will be determined no later than the week of July 27.

Governor Walz said they will consider the recommendations as they move forward with a decision on how to proceed in the fall. 

“This is all part of the decision,” said Gov. Walz. “As an educator and me as a parent of a 13 year old, they need to get back in the classroom. We know that they're not learning as much as they could in that classroom.”

According to Walz, distance learning has led to racial inequities with access to broadband being an issue.

“Time is running very short for us to have a decision about school to allow people to plan accordingly,” he said. “The problem with COVID is the quick movement of it so we're relying on the experts. We have been fairly accurate in where Minnesota will be at in that potential peak, the good news is we never really spiked out the top.”

For more than an hour on Tuesday, superintendents, school board members and other education leaders shared their concerns with Minnesota House of Representatives members during a virtual hearing.

Chreese Jones, principal of Global Arts Plus in St. Paul, said “We were already dealing with trauma prior to distance learning and then the murder of George Floyd added to that trauma. I'm thankful for our counseling department who provided many tools for our staff as well as families but the trauma is real, the emotional exhaustion is real and there is going to be a lot said for healing as we think about the fall.”

Katie Wiese, a member of the Pipestone Area School Board, is also worried about students’ wellbeing.

“We are very concerned about the social and mental affect COVID-19 and quarantine has had on our community’s, staff and students,” she said. “We expect an additional counseling need as well as increased behavioral issues.”

Wiese is also concerned about PPE funding moving forward. During the hearing, she said the district has already spent thousands of dollars on the essential equipment and expect they could need at least $50,000 more of supplies. 

“When distance learning started we did have students at home who did not have internet,” said Wiese. “So we did spend approximately $20,000 on hotspots and other technology needs.”

She, and other educators, called for more funding for essential equipment and student supports.

According to Wise, they have seen test scores declining, especially among kindergartners through third graders.

“I hope to be able to get our kids back to school this fall,” she said. “I don’t feel distance learning is geared towards our students’ education and is detrimental to their emotional development. I urge you to let each district make their decisions based on being able to provide a safe learning environment for their kids.”

David Boone, with the Robbinsdale School Board, said they have also seen increased technology needs during the pandemic.

“We need funding for more funding for Chromebooks, iPads and specialized equipment for students with special needs,” he said. “Parents with medically fragile students have said they will not send their students to school without a vaccine, which will require remote access for staff and students.”

Boone told lawmakers they are also concerned about the wellbeing of students, expecting an increased need for school-based mental health services.

“As we surveyed our district there was a strong support to return to school if proper CDC protocols are followed,” said Boone.

For Sabrina Williams, the founder and executive director of Excell Academy, transportation is also a key concern moving forward.

“I think this will be the determining factor in whether we will actually be able to offer on-site educational services at any level,” she said. “How many buses will be needed to transport students safely, who is going to pay for the transportation?”

She said some buses have 50 to 60 students on board, often riding three in a seat.

Williams told lawmakers technology has been a challenge for charter schools as well.

“Families in urban and rural areas have had challenges in accessing technology and or reliable internet access,” she said. 

For Tim Lutz, the Superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools, “As an educator I wish for nothing more than to bring our students back into our buildings this fall. Having said that, I am not healthcare specialist so I will refer to the experts regarding what this fall will look like.”

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