RICHMOND, Va. -- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is strongly advocating students to be physically present in school as much as possible when school resumes in August and September.
The medical association emphasized documented evidence of the importance of in-person learning, as well as evidence showing the negative impacts on children because of school closures in March due to COVID-19.
Dr. Eric Freeman, a Richmond-based pediatrician, said school divisions should not only look at the educational benefits of in-person school but also the mental health benefits.
“What I’ve noticed over the past number of months is the tremendous rise in the amount of mental health concerns,” Dr. Freeman said. “Many children feel isolated. The rise of depression and anxiety because of their absence from school and isolation at home, has gone up tremendously. The more that we see in terms of mental health problems in children, it increases the risks for potential mental health complications including suicide.”
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents, according to medical statistics.
In-person learning, according to the AAP, also helps children who have learning deficits, are at risk of abuse, or don’t have access to healthy meals.
The association also cited mounting evidence that shows COVID-19 appears to behave differently and is transmitted less frequently in children and adolescents than other respiratory viruses such as influenza.
Despite the association’s recommendation for in-person school attendance, the AAP also said school districts need to be flexible and develop strategies that can be revised and adapted depending on the level of viral transmission in the school and throughout the community.
Dr. Sandy Chung, President of the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said there are ways to mitigate the risks of COVID-19.
“We know that some of the strategies to help mitigate the risk at school include social distancing, making sure students wear masks if possible, certainly that adults are wearing masks that are at the school,” Dr. Chung said. “These are all important things to do and the only way to do that in the space of a classroom is to reduce the number of children in a classroom at a particular time.”
On Monday night, Richmond School Board members heard the results of a recent survey of Richmond Public School families and staff.
Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said a majority of people prefer an alternating two-day schedule for students in the fall. Kamras is also recommending a five-day a week option for students with unique needs.
“If physical distancing restrictions are relaxed, we would be in a position to bring all our students back full time, but as long as the physical distancing is still recommended, it’s simply not physically possible to have all our students in school at the same time,” Kamras said.
Chung said it’s important for families to weigh their benefits and risks in deciding what options work best for them.
“It’s really important that you think about your own family and your own family’s risks, but also your own child’s needs and whether or not your child would be better in a school environment rather than being at home in front of a computer,” Chung said.
Chesterfield County Schools will hold a series of virtual town hall meetings beginning on Tuesday, June 30.
Henrico County Schools is considering several options for that fall including schedules in which students alternate in-class learning every other week.