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Citing Educational Risks, Scientific Panel Urges That Schools Reopen

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Parents and students learning from home outside

Wading into the contentious debate over reopening schools, an influential committee of scientists and educators on Wednesday recommended that, wherever possible, younger children and those with special needs should attend school in person.

Their report — issued by the prestigious National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, which advises the nation on issues related to science — is less prescriptive for middle and high schools, but offered a framework for school districts to decide whether and how to open, with help from public health experts, families and teachers.

The committee emphasized common-sense precautions, such as hand-washing, physical distancing and minimizing group activities, including lunch and recess.

Online learning is ineffective for most elementary-school children and special-needs children, the panel of scientists and educators concluded.

To the extent possible, “it should be a priority for districts to reopen for in-person learning, especially for younger ages,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins and a member of the committee.

Mary Kathryn Malone, a mother of three children, has been eager for schools to reopen in Mount Vernon, Ohio, where she lives. Her 9-year-old daughter is pining for her friends, and her 3-year-old has only part-time day care — and not while Dr. Malone works.

Most studies suggest the virus poses minimal health risks to children under 18. And the report said that evidence for how easily children become infected or spread the virus to others, including teachers and parents, is “insufficient” to draw firm conclusions.

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