Of course, it’s also understandable why a parent would want their children to head back to traditional school. In June ― which feels like a lifetime ago ― doctors with the American Academy of Pediatrics said they were “strongly” in favor of in-person learning, while acknowledging that universal mask-wearing among kids may not be realistic.
The group noted that the “negative impacts” on children of school closures in the spring are already evident. One research paper estimates that the 55 million U.S. students who were out of school due to the coronavirus pandemic may have lost roughly a third of the last academic year’s usual progress in reading and as much as half of their usual progress in math. (And then, of course, there’s the lack of socializing that comes with remote learning.)
It’s a complicated situation ― even pediatricians will admit as much. As districts navigate and potentially reconsider their reopening plans, we decided to ask pediatricians across the country what they want for their kids this school year.
The question we asked was simple: “Do you want your child’s school to reopen in the fall?” Here’s what they had to say. (Some doctors asked to remain anonymous.)
“It’s my job to protect my children’s health and I intend to do just that by keeping my kids home from school.”
“I do not want my kids returning to school as my children’s school is not planning to follow the CDC guidelines for reopening. They’re 15 and 17. As much as I would like for my kids to return to school (and I really do!), I don’t want them to go at the cost of their safety. In my opinion, if a school isn’t social distancing or requiring masks when social distancing isn’t possible, then that school is not safe for children. It’s my job to protect my children’s health and I intend to do just that by keeping my kids home from school. I am aware that not all parents have the luxury of making that choice and I am fighting for schools to do the right thing and open safely so all parents can keep their children safe from COVID-19.” ― Joanna Dolgoff, a pediatrician who’s been in practice for 17 years and works in Georgia (Dolgoff is also a spokesperson for the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.)
“I would love for school to feel more normal but as a pediatrician and a mom, I am torn.”
“I have two children, ages 4 and 6. My 6-year-old will be entering kindergarten this fall. I value the social interactions, relationship building and education that comes with in-person learning that just cannot occur in the same way from distance learning. I would love for school to feel more normal but as a pediatrician and a mom, I am torn. Children can get COVID. They are not immune to the disease. Some experience long-lasting outcomes that we are just beginning to understand as a medical community. And, tragically, some children die from COVID. We also know that children can spread COVID. I can’t imagine how my sensitive kindergartener would feel if he brought home the infection that made someone in our family critically ill.
“As it is, my children’s schools will place them into smaller groups this year rather than fit all of them into a single larger class. Masks are required. Social distancing will be attempted. Hopefully, staff and families will be screened daily for symptoms prior to arrival, ventilation will be maximized, classes will be held outdoors for as long as reasonable, and testing becomes readily available.
“Emotionally, I believe that these layers of defense will help. But I needed more data, so I did some math. For me, I would comfortably send my child to school with these safety protocols if the risk that someone had COVID in his smaller pod was less than 5%. In San Francisco, where I live, a group of 10 people has a 9% to 17% chance that someone in the group has COVID. If this holds true for children in schools, do I plan to knowingly send my child anywhere where there is a 9% chance of COVID? For me, no way. Until the rates of COVID decrease to a lower level or we have an effective vaccine or treatment, we will keep our children out of school. An acceptable level of risk is going to be different for every family and every circumstance. Splitting my time between work and supporting my boys throughout the day will be difficult, but I am hoping we can lower the rate of COVID and lower the risk of COVID for our students, staff and teachers.” ― Natasha Agbai, a pediatrician who’s been in practice for 12 years and works at Discover Health Medical Group in San Francisco
“The situation is not that straightforward so I think it will have to be left up to each parent.”
“School potentially starting in one month feels like a lifetime in a pandemic. I’ve been a pediatrician practicing for almost 15 years and I will have a 13-year-old starting high school in the fall. As a pediatrician and as a mother, I feel like it’s all what our acceptable level of risk is. Many parents need to get back to work in order to feed their families. The situation is not that straightforward so I think it will have to be left up to each parent. Having a child entering high school, although her social-emotional needs are extremely important, I just feel like it would be so much safer if I could keep her home and that would be my preference. At least I’d like to see how things play out as the flu season enters.” ― A New York-based pediatrician who’s been in practice for almost 15 years