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Should Kids Go Back to School? Why the AAP Says Yes

boy getting on school bus
Hansa Bhargava, MD
July 08, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

July is about the time of year that most parents start thinking about school restarting. While in previous years, most of us would be ramping up the school supplies and making sure shoes still fit, this year is certainly different. The big lingering question now is: Should I even send my child back to school?

COVID-19 infection rates are rising in many parts of our country, and we’ve heard about increased hospitalizations and the deaths. And in the last 2 months, there have been reports of Pediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome which has affected children. It's concerning for sure. And it may make you wonder why the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement supporting a return to school in the fall. Why not just do online school? Can’t kids just learn that way?

Online school seemed like a good idea, in theory. A few hours of classes via a computer at home and then homework afterwards. But the truth is, it didn't really work for many families. First, not everyone has a computer and dedicated internet. And then there is the fact that many parents need to go to work. How can they do that if their kids are at home? Even parents who were fortunate enough to ‘work remotely’ had a very hard time making sure their young kids stayed online, understood what was taught, and did the assigned homework. These parents were expected to act as teachers while juggling their job, as well as more household duties including stocking up groceries and serving meals. Families were stressed to the breaking point. Most importantly, for many kids, online school simply wasn’t productive – or, for those without access to computers, wasn’t even possible.

Lunch is another factor. Unfortunately, 1/4 to 1/5 of families depend on the school lunch program, as they simply cannot afford to feed their kids another meal. This affects over 30 million children. So closing schools in response to COVID-19 was devastating for parents who, in a good economy, were tight, but now had to grapple with possible job loss and another meal on the table. And we know that when kids are hungry, they can't focus on learning.

There’s also the mental health aspect to consider. When kids stay home, with no option to be with friends or socialize, it can also be a strain on mental health and behavior. In fact, research has shown that depression and anxiety rates have gone up for children during school closures.

This is why the AAP has come out with a recommendation that schools should reopen.

But what if my child contracts COVID-19?

As a parent myself of 13-year-old twins, I completely understand this concern. But here’s some good news. In a few recent studies out of Switzerland and China, most kids that attended school that practiced social distancing, did not bring home a COVID-19 infection. Additionally, the childcare centers in the New York area that had to remain open (for parents who were essential workers and frontline healthcare workers) oversaw about 10,000 children in 170 centers, but very few of the children were infected and even fewer were able to infect adults. It seems that kids get infected less, and also don’t spread the infection.

If I send my child back, how can I best prepare?

School will look very different this fall. The CDC and the AAP have given some guidelines which include social distancing, having pods where the same small group of kids stay together, wearing masks, and emphasizing good hand hygiene. These measures will offer protection, but parents need to stay involved and make sure that they are doing their part. Here are some ways you can prepare for a different type of ‘normal’ as your kids go back to school.

  • Start talking to your kids NOW and setting up good habits. Let them know how school will be different and practice social distancing, hand hygiene, and mask wearing. One tip I say to my own kids is masks on when you go out the door, hands washed when you come in the door.
  • Talk about how their classroom may be different. This may include smaller classrooms, one teacher, and limited recess time. Sports many be cancelled or limited, but that’s okay.
  • Get your kids vaccinated. This is more important than ever before. With COVID-19 rates high, we certainly don’t want a bad flu season or other outbreaks to happen. Protect your children and work together with the school to help all kids get vaccinated.
  • Adapt. School may not last the entire fall; authorities may call for a break if infections get higher or if there are other issues. Schools are learning as we are – let’s give them grace and adapt as needed.
  • Take care of yourself. It is a stressful time and we need to be flexible. But that means, you as a parent, needs to be replenished too. Eat, exercise, sleep, and rest so you’ll be able to handle these new changes too!

And lastly, remember, kids need to go to school to learn well, to have structure, and to have socialization. We want them to be holistically healthy – physically and mentally. School done the right way can help us accomplish those goals.


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About the Author
Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Hansa Bhargava, MD, is Chief Medical Officer at Medscape Education and a board-certified pediatrician. She is the author of Building Happier Kids: Stress-busting Tools for Parents. With expertise in parenting, mental health, and pregnancy, she has helped develop the WebMD Baby App and WebMD Pregnancy App. A regular contributor to Forbes, she is frequently interviewed by major news outlets on issues of health and well-being in children. In addition to her work at Medscape Education, she has collaborated with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and is an elected executive member of the AAP Committee on Communications and Media.

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