Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

COVID-19: What Experts Think About Reopening Schools

Health + Wellness
COVID-19: What Experts Think About Reopening Schools
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, voiced support for safe reopening measures. www.vperemen.com / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA

By Kristen Fischer

It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.

The group's recent recommendations include social distancing protocol based on different grades. For example, it's more feasible to keep preschoolers in small groups (known as "cohorting") with the same teacher throughout the day. Older children should have desks 3 to 6 feet apart and wear masks.

They also say schools should limit unnecessary visitors to the buildings and utilize outdoor spaces for learning. The guidelines recommend safer bussing, hallway traffic monitoring, cafeteria use, cleaning, and screening protocols among other recommendations.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, also voiced support for safe reopening measures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has guidelines for reopening schools.

Despite calls for them to be revised by President Donald Trump, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said they will not change, but the CDC will soon publish additional documents on symptom monitoring and mask usage.

But school administrators, parents, and teachers remain wary of going back to school full time as they fear becoming the site of super spreader events.

Keeping Schools Safe

What will safer schools look like?

In a JAMA article published last month, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.

Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.

He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.

Erika Martin, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.

Not all recommendations will be achievable for schools in certain areas, noted Lucy Sorensen, PhD, an assistant professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany.

"It may not be feasible to space desks six feet apart or have windows open in classrooms in a New York winter," Sorensen explained.

Other strategies to safeguard school communities can include high-intensity ultraviolet light, thermal cameras, and conferencing systems.

"Social distancing will be hard for students," said Tina M. Pascoe, a nurse and co-founder of Nurses for Day Care, who has been involved with efforts to keep day care centers open during the pandemic.

Limiting class size, and not having special activities that require students to leave the room, will be key. "This keeps students stay in one cohort or like a family unit," she told Healthline.

Supporting Staff

Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted Rachel Widome, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.

"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.

Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.

Should Kids Go Back?

While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.

In a Pediatrics commentary, Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr., an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.

But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.

"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a June article in JAMA with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."

Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.

What Parents Can Do

Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.

"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.

"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.

She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.

"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.

Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.

"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added Lee Scott, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at The Goddard School. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.

Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a checklist for administrators, report on ethical considerations, and a tracker of state and local reopening plans.

Reposted with permission from Healthline. For detailed source information, please view the original article on Healthline.

Former U.S. Sec. of Energy Ernest Moniz listens during the National Clean Energy Summit 9.0 on October 13, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Isaac Brekken / Getty Images for National Clean Energy Summit

By Jake Johnson

Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Climate change can evoke intense feelings, but a conversational approach can help. Reed Kaestner / Getty Images

Anger, anxiety, overwhelm … climate change can evoke intense feelings.

"It's easy to feel dwarfed in the context of such a global systemic issue," says psychologist Renée Lertzman.

She says that when people experience these feelings, they often shut down and push information away. So to encourage climate action, she advises not bombarding people with frightening facts.

"When we lead with information, we are actually unwittingly walking right into a situation that is set up to undermine our efforts," she says.

She says if you want to engage people on the topic, take a compassionate approach. Ask people what they know and want to learn. Then have a conversation.

This conversational approach may seem at odds with the urgency of the issue, but Lertzman says it can get results faster.

"When we take a compassion-based approach, we are actively disarming defenses so that people are actually more willing and able to respond and engage quicker," she says. "And we don't have time right now to mess around, and so I do actually come to this topic with a sense of urgency… We do not have time to not take this approach."

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.


A rare North Atlantic right whale is seen off Cape Cod Bay on April 14, 2019 near Provincetown, Massachusetts. Don Emmert / AFP / Getty Images

An extremely rare North Atlantic right whale calf was found dead off the North Carolina coast on Friday.

Read More Show Less
Sprinklers irrigate a field of onions near a Castilian village in Spain. According to a new study, the average farm size in the EU has almost doubled since the 1960s. miguelangelortega / Moment / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

A new report released Tuesday details the "shocking" state of global land equality, saying the problem is worse than thought, rising, and "cannot be ignored."

Read More Show Less
Members of the San Carlos Apache Nation protest to protect parts of Oak Flat from a copper mining company on July 22, 2015 in Washington, DC. Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

In yet another attack on the environment before leaving office, the Trump administration is seeking to transfer ownership of San Carlos Apache holy ground in Oak Flat, Arizona, to a copper mining company.

Read More Show Less