Millions of children and teenagers across England and the USA are returning to schools this month. With the coronavirus still prevalent in society, many are concerned as to how to keep children and school staff safe. When the coronavirus pandemic reached countries such as the UK and the USA in March, thousands of schools were closed and parents took on the role of home-schooling to safeguard children. However, as society attempts to return to a semblance of normality and allow pupils to access the life changing education they need for their development and future, governments have made the decision to re-open school doors. Some cities are suffering from localized outbreaks meaning that some will have to teach remotely. Others have put into place strict social distancing guidelines in order to better safeguard pupils and staff.
In order to help inform parents and guardians, the CDC has specialized information on their website, discussing the re-opening of schools in America and aiming to help parents decide on whether or not to put their child back into school, writing that:
‘As you are making decisions about your child(ren) returning to school, it is important to consider the full spectrum of risks involved in both in-person and virtual learning options. Parents, guardians, and caregivers should weigh the relative health risks of COVID-19 transmission from in-personal instruction against the educational, social-behavioral, and emotional risks of providing no in-person instruction when deciding between these two options. Aside from a child’s home, no other setting has more influence on a child’s health and well-being than the school. The in-person school environment not only provides educational instruction, but supports a child’s social and emotional skills, safety, speech, mental health, reliable nutrition, and opportunities for physical activity. This tool is designed to help weigh the risks and benefits of available educational options to help you make decisions about sending your child back to school.’
Some parents or guardians may choose not to put the child back into school because they are at an increased risk of infection. Generally however, guidelines have suggested that children are less likely to contract COVID-19 compared to adults, however, this information is based on limited data and scientists are still learning about this unprecedented disease. Statistics have shown so far that whilst children can and have caught the disease, the chances are lower than that of adults. In the UK, Sky News reported, ‘children account for fewer than 2% of COVID-19 cases, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology says. They found “transmission in schools appears to be very low” and children with the virus are likely to have caught it from an adult rather than another child, according to a briefing published on 16 July.’ However, it is important to highlight that researchers are not entirely sure as to how COVID-19 affects children. Further, the World Health Organisation (WHO), recently identified spikes in Europe among young people.
Speaking to The Atlantic, Ravi Jhaveri, a doctor at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago said: ‘Reopening schools certainly poses risks to students, their families, and school staff, but what’s known about children and coronavirus transmission is “still really incomplete,”.. Still, he said, the existing scientific evidence indicates that kids under 10 are less likely to contract COVID-19 than teenagers and adults. They also may spread the virus less readily than older people, though researchers don’t know that for certain.’
The reopening of many schools in the US, has brought with it the blueprints of several precautions that institutions will be enforcing to protect pupils against the spread of coronavirus. The Atlantic reported, ‘included in these reopening plans are a number of measures whose implementation will fall to students themselves. The basic trinity of pandemic safety—distancing, hand-washing, and masking—dictates a new set of cautious behaviors that will be expected of children on school grounds. Kids will also be expected to refrain from many once-normal activities—hugging, sharing toys, trading food at lunchtime, and so on. K–12 students may generally be capable of doing what public-health experts ask, but not all of them, not everything, and not all the time.’
However, social distancing guidelines may be difficult to enforce with younger children. Some schools may therefore look to install barriers, separate desks and so forth to try and offset the elements of social distancing that young children may find difficult to practice. In the UK, ITV news reported that class sizes will be reduced, in order to enforce distancing, children will be kept in ‘bubbles’, assigned one member of staff only allowed to interact with the members of their class. Floor markings, separated tables and chairs will all be utilized to help children stay safely apart and outdoor classes will be encouraged. Government advice asks that each school manages social distancing as best they can whilst accommodating space and the individual needs of pupils.