Pediatricians call for students to be ‘physically present in school’ in the fall

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging school systems across the country to physically reopen in the fall because "schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being."

The organization issued a statement Monday saying it "strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with the goal of having students physically present in school."

The guidance from the AAP referred to evidence that young children are not only less likely to contract the virus, but they also seem to be less likely to transmit it as well.

The guidance addressed social distancing and the fact that it would not always be practical for young children to wear masks in addition to suggesting that school administrators use outdoor spaces, bump up cleaning and disinfection and insist on hand-washing.

While suggesting that children be kept at least 6 feet apart as much as possible, the group also said that the opportunity for elementary schoolchildren to attend school should be considered over concerns about social distancing.

"Schools should weigh the benefits of strict adherence to a 6-feet spacing rule between students with the potential downside if remote learning is the only alternative," the statement read.

Other ideas the AAP offered addressed school meals (consider having children eat meals in their classrooms); hallways (make them one-way); and the mental health of the staff (have resources available for teachers and staff).

Here some other guidelines suggested by the AAP for school reopening:

— School policies must be flexible and nimble in responding to new information.

— Policies should be practical, feasible, and appropriate for child and adolescent's developmental stage.

— Special considerations and accommodations to account for the diversity of youth should be made.

— No child or adolescents should be excluded from school unless required in order to adhere to local public health mandates or because of unique medical needs.

— School policies should be guided by supporting the overall health and well-being of all children, adolescents, their families and their communities.

For elementary schools

  • Children should wear face coverings when harms (eg, increasing hand-mouth/nose contact) do not outweigh benefits (potential COVID-19 risk reduction).
  • Desks should be placed 3 to 6 feet apart when feasible (if this reduces the amount of time children are present in school, harm may outweigh potential benefits).
  • Cohort (or keeping the same students together in one room) classes to minimize crossover among children and adults within the school.
  • Utilize outdoor spaces when possible.

For secondary schools

  • Universal face coverings in middle and high schools when not able to maintain a 6-foot distance (students and adults).
  • Particular avoidance of close physical proximity in cases of increased exhalation (singing, exercise); these activities are likely safest outdoors and spread out.
  • Desks should be placed 3 to 6 feet apart when feasible.
  • Cohort classes if possible, limit crossover of students and teachers to the extent possible.

Ideas that may assist with cohorting:

  • Block schedule (much like colleges, intensive one-month blocks).
  • Eliminate use of lockers or assign them by cohort to reduce need for hallway use across multiple areas of the building. (This strategy would need to be done in conjunction with planning to ensure students are not carrying home an unreasonable number of books on a daily basis and may vary depending on other cohorting and instructional decisions schools are making.)
  • Have teachers rotate instead of students when feasible.
  • Utilize outdoor spaces when possible.
  • Teachers should maintain 6 feet from students when possible and if not disruptive to educational process.
  • Restructure elective offerings to allow small groups within one classroom. This may not be possible in a small classroom.