Is Going Back to School or Online Learning Best for Your Child? A Pediatrician Shares what Parents Should Consider.
By Justin Smith, M.D.
“What’s school going to look like in the fall?” “Should I send my child or keep them at home?”
These are the questions that every parent is probably already asking as school districts roll out their plans for re-opening school in the context of continued COVID-19 cases in our communities. Many schools may present the option for all in person, all online or some blended method. And parents will have to consider what works best for their children.
There have been many stressful decisions in regards to COVID, but this might be the most anxiety inducing one for parents so far. School districts realize how stressful this is for parents and are taking steps to protect their students and your kids.
“We understand that some of our families are anxious about the new school year so we are implementing strict new cleaning protocols for every campus. That means that schools will be cleaned multiple times during the daytime hours rather than in the evening as has been the practice for many years,” said FWISD Superintendent Kent P. Scribner. “We are also making a significant investment in both Personal Protective Equipment--for both adults and children—as well as cleaning supplies for campuses and other FWISD facilities. The good health and safety of our students and employees remains our top priority.”
The Texas Education Agency released these guidelines for school reopening on July 7, 2020:
- Daily on campus learning will be available to all parents who choose that option for their children
- Parents may be asked to commit to remote instruction for a full grading period but will not have to commit until 2 weeks ahead
- Health and safety procedures should be in place for student and teacher safety
In normal times, making a decision about what your child will do for school in the middle of July would seem way too late, but this year it feels way too early.
Each parent will have to make their own decision but here are some things that it would help to consider:
Childcare and Other Resources
First and foremost, it’s important to consider that children attending school is an important part of allowing parents to work and function in society. Parent’s jobs help secure food, shelter and in many cases provide health care insurance that allow children to receive care when needed. Not all parents can work from home, stay productive and keep a job. In addition, many of our children receive their most nutritious and guaranteed meal during the school year through their school lunch. Schools provide many resources to our communities and children beyond education.
Healthy children, for the most part, are considered to be safe in the school environment. Children have been more or less spared from severe illness but, as with most illnesses, children with chronic medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness. Parents of children with medical conditions may learn toward keeping their child in the online environment in order to protect them from exposure. In addition to the child, considerations must be made for other household members and extended family members with whom the child might have contact. If the child will have contact with family members who have weakened immune systems, they could bring the virus home despite not having significant symptoms.
Examining the policies and procedures of the school will be another important decision point for families. Is the school district taking the recommendations for safety seriously and attempting to implement them consistently? With kids involved, there will be a learning curve but districts should be considering policies in regards to social distancing, mask use and movement throughout schools at a minimum. The evidence suggests that most schools are taking the threat of COVID very seriously but each parent should make that assessment for themselves.
April and May taught us a lot about how capable our students were of learning in an online environment. While the school districts will be significantly more prepared for teaching online, there are certain kids for whom it was obvious that the online environment was not going to be the right choice for them. Children who receive services and support at school might have a more difficult time adjusting to life at home without that extra help. For others, they struggle to learn online and in-person teaching might be a better fit. In addition to the child’s learning needs, families must consider their ability to support their learner with their existing responsibilities. Teachers and school staff can help, but students at home will often require some, if not significant, guidance from someone in the home. This is especially true for younger students and those with special learning needs.
Social and Emotional Needs
Some kids have thrived in regards to their mental health with the online learning environment. Many children with anxiety in regards to school or formalized testing had significant improvement in their symptoms as they transitioned to at-home learning. Other students and families needed the structure and activity of school in order to maintain a sense of normalcy. The lack of contact with friends, teachers and other school staff affected them in very negative ways. Another consideration should be the child’s level of concern about COVID-19. Children with significant anxiety regarding the virus could anxiety, depression and other severe health and mental health issues.
Decisions regarding going back to school in the fall are complex. Each parent should consider how the effects of being at school or at home would affect their children and consider that as part of their decision.
For more information on this topic, read the recommendations of more than 50 Cook Children’s pediatricians, led by Medical Director of Infection Prevention, who worked to create guidelines for returning back to school. The AAP released similar guidelines that support opening of schools for in person instruction.
It’s likely the plans for each school will continue to change throughout the rest of the summer. Parents should consider the best option for their children and be prepared for disruptions to occur based on local case numbers.
For more on this topic:
- Cook Children's Physicians Create Guide to Help Kids Safely Return to School amid COVID-19 pandemic
- COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry (AAP)
- Young Athletes and COVID-19: 'When Can My Child Start Playing Sports Again?'
- TEA Issues Comprehensive Guidelines for a Safe Return to On-Campus Instruction for the 2020-21 School Year
Get to know Justin Smith, M.D.
Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician in Trophy Club and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Smith is an experienced keynote speaker for a variety of topics including pediatric/parenting topics, healthcare social media and physician leadership. If you are interested in having Dr. Smith present to your conference or meeting, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's checkupnewsroom.com. He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles. Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” open now. Click to learn more. To make an appointment, call 817-347-8100.