Pediatricians want children to return to classrooms

Pediatricians are urging school districts and teachers to find a way to get children back in school. Doctors say it can be done safely.

“This is a critical juncture. If we don’t get kids back in school as soon as we can, in a way that’s safe, we’re concerned these impacts really are lifelong and many of those kids in particular will not catch up, " said Dr. Elizabeth Meade, president of the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics

Dr. Meade says the WCAAP is training 70 pediatricians state wide to work with districts and teachers to find ways to make it safe to return to class.

She says it can be done safely with symptom screening, hand washing, ventilation and spacing.

“We know six feet is incredibly difficult for schools, and while we know six feet is optimal for each person to be six feet apart, we also know that may be a deal-breaker for many schools in terms of getting kids back in the classroom,” said Meade.

The Lake Washington school district already decided secondary students won’t go back this year. On Monday, the district said if it has to keep students six feet apart, it could still mean hybrid learning in the fall.

Meade says the way around that is to use cohorting. “Cohorting can be really helpful where small pods of children, three or four kids, can be closer than six feet from each other, but those pods are never closer than six feet from the other pods. The teacher can be more than six feet apart from any of the students,” Meade explained.

Meade says the kids who were already vulnerable because of poverty, race, socioeconomic issues, home issues or learning disabilities are the children who are suffering the most. She works in a Seattle hospital and recently cared for four teens who had attempted suicide in one weekend. She is concerned about the toll the pandemic is taking on mental health.

Gov. Jay Inslee expressed his frustration about getting students back to in-person learning on Thursday.

“If I had a nickel for every excuse I have heard for not giving our children on-site instruction, I would be a millionaire at this point. These excuses are getting a little tiresome, frankly,” said Inslee.

Joy Springer is an occupational therapist in the Seattle School District. She’s also a union representative in the Seattle Education Association.

“SEA is not opposed to going back in person, that is not what we’re trying to say at all. What we’re saying is that the transition to in-person service needs to be grounded in equity, safety and informed consent,” said Springer.

She also said she has data measuring the progress of her special education students, and many of them are thriving online, exceeding last year’s progress. She says it is not true that all students do better in-person. Springer said assistive technology that comes with online learning has offered support to students who were struggling in the classroom setting.