As school districts across the country begin to reveal their plans for this fall, with many anticipating a mix of in-person and online classes, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released guidelines saying that it “strongly advocates” the goal of having students “physically present in school.”
The organization is known for its generally conservative, careful approach to children’s health and safety. In some places, though, its guidance does not align with the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says the safest approach is remote schooling, as well as the emerging plans of many school districts.
While the C.D.C. advises six feet of distance between seated students, the academy says that three feet of distance may be sufficient if students are masked. For preschoolers, the academy says that masking may be impractical, and that reducing playful interactions between classmates “may not provide substantial Covid-19 risk reduction.”
The group laid out a number of concerns with remote learning, such as lack of socialization, educational deficits, a decreased ability for schools to monitor problems like depression and abuse, and less access for students to physical activity and to affordable or free food. It warns that social distancing may have a negative impact on children’s development, without providing much upside in terms of health.
For secondary students, the pediatric group advises conducting high-risk activities like singing and exercise outdoors. It suggests having teachers rotate between groups of students who stay mainly in place, while allowing students to work on different electives in smaller groups within a single classroom, which would require more physical space.
While acknowledging how quickly the science on the virus is changing, the guidelines refer to emerging research suggesting that children are not only much less likely than adults to suffer severe consequences from the coronavirus, but are also less likely to transmit it to others.
The document illustrates a new difficulty for local education officials who must choose when and how to reopen schools: the fact that experts disagree about the most prudent course of action.