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Schools have closed for the academic year, but in preparation for the fall term the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has offered guidance on what to consider before schools reopen.
Many states across the United States have begun the process of reopening and returning to some form of normalcy. Schools were one of the earliest affected institutions in the country and most, if not all, have moved to virtual learning for the rest of the academic year. At this point, it appears likely that students will return to their classrooms in the fall.
To help keep children safe, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued guidance to help school districts with their decision-making.1
The guidance says that several factors must be taken into consideration for students to return to in-person learning, including:
· Children have lost instructional time and social-emotional development, which will require changes to curricula. Schools may develop programs to make up for lost progress, but the programs need to take into account the mental toll of the pandemic on both students and educators.
· Schools are a critical source of nutrition for many children and the recent economic fallout will make school meals even more essential. Before reopening schools, districts should try to find ways to get meals to children.
· For students with disabilities, schools should review each child’s Educational Plan (IEP) and assess their program to adjust for lost education time. Students with disabilities may have more difficulty transitioning back to in-school education. Districts should prioritize new referrals over re-evaluations due to any backlog in evaluations.
· Current understanding of COVID-19 should be used to determine whether children with high-risk medical conditions return to school or continue distance learning/home/hospital instructions.
· Because of changes in well-child care in pediatric offices, schools should consider extending deadlines for required annual paperwork. Required immunization compliance still should be prioritized.
· Evaluations prior to athletic involvement should continue to meet previous guidance.
· Providing mental health support will be one of the most important elements of returning to school. Educators and school personnel should be given training on how to support students. Students who require further mental health services should be referred. If a student does not return to school, the school should contact the student and the family to discover the reasons behind the absence.
The guidance also says that school districts will have to take several health factors into consideration as well, including:
· The local and national epidemiology of SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19).
· What is the availability of testing in the area? How well can the state and local health departments do community surveillance and contact tracing?
· Ensuring that measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 have been implemented, such as appropriate disinfectant/sanitizing procedures, monitoring for illness among both staff and students, limiting interactions, and using masks.
· The latest data on the role of school-aged children and teenagers in transmitting COVID-19.
· Be prepared to have intermittent closure of school in the event of COVID-19 infections.
· Create options for a phased re-opening, which will allow for monitoring the impact on the epidemiology at a local level before schools are fully re-opened.
1. American Academy of Pediatrics. COVID-19 planning considerations: return to in-person education in schools. Updated May 5, 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020. https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/covid-19-planning-considerations-return-to-in-person-education-in-schools/