‘Schools should remain virtual’: S.C. for Ed disagrees with pediatric group’s push to reopen schools

‘Schools should remain virtual’: S.C. for Ed disagrees with pediatric group’s push to reopen schools
SC for Ed released a statement Wednesday calling a push from the American Academy of Pediatrics to reopen schools “problematic at best.” (Source: Live 5/File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - SC for Ed released a statement Wednesday calling a push from the American Academy of Pediatrics to reopen schools “problematic at best.”

The group’s response follows a message from the AAP sent out sent out Tuesday, calling it “a matter of children’s well-being.” The AAP laid out a series of safety guidelines and protocols for schools to follow as they reintroduce in-person classes. Their recommendations were for any school re-entry policies to consider the following principles:

  • School policies must be flexible and nimble in responding to new information, and administrators must be willing to refine approaches when specific policies are not working.
  • It is critically important to develop strategies that can be revised and adapted depending on the level of viral transmission in the school and throughout the community and done with close communication with state and/or local public health authorities and recognizing the differences between school districts, including urban, suburban, and rural districts.
  • Policies should be practical, feasible, and appropriate for child and adolescent's developmental stage.
  • Special considerations and accommodations to account for the diversity of youth should be made, especially for our vulnerable populations, including those who are medically fragile, live in poverty, have developmental challenges, or have special health care needs or disabilities, with the goal of safe return to school.
  • No child or adolescents should be excluded from school unless required in order to adhere to local public health mandates or because of unique medical needs. Pediatricians, families, and schools should partner together to collaboratively identify and develop accommodations, when needed.
  • School policies should be guided by supporting the overall health and well-being of all children, adolescents, their families, and their communities. These policies should be consistently communicated in languages other than English, if needed, based on the languages spoken in the community, to avoid marginalization of parents/guardians who are of limited English proficiency or do not speak English at all.

“With the above principles in mind, the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” the organization’s website states. “The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.”

AAP also said lengthy time away from school and “associated interruption of supportive services” can cause social isolation and make it difficult for schools to spot learning deficits, child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.

“This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality,” their site states.

A statement released from SC for Ed board members Dottie Adams, Lisa Ellis, Keely Hitchings, Saani Perri and Nicole Walker said to call for a return to school “while a pandemic is still raging and South Carolina is seeing one of the world’s fastest increases in viral infections is short-sighted.”

Their statement also said such recommendations fail to consider the logistics that go into running schools in a safe manner and the lack of funding South Carolina schools have been experiencing for more than a decade.

“Lack of funding since 2008 has made it impossible to maintain safe buildings, modern HVAC systems, and safe student-teacher ratios required in even the AAP plans, and we find it disturbing that physician groups did not use their collective voice until now regarding the well-documented child health concerns,” the statement read.

The group called for state schools to remain “virtual” to protect students, families, faculty and staff.

Here is SC for Ed’s full statement:

The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought to light disparities in SC that teachers have been trying to call attention to for decades, to no avail. The Board of SC for Ed finds the letter and the push from the American Academy of Pediatrics to be problematic at best. To encourage policymakers to require students and staff to return to school buildings while the pandemic is still raging and South Carolina is seeing one of the world’s fastest increases in viral infections is short-sighted. All of the recommendations we have seen from pediatric professionals do not consider the logistics that go into running a school safely, nor do they acknowledge the lack of funding this state’s educational system has experienced for over a decade. We agree that school is much more than academics; it is a safe place for students to figure out who they are. It is a place that provides physical, social and emotional nourishment. However, if students and staff are required to return, it will not be a place for nourishment. Lack of funding since 2008 has made it impossible to maintain safe buildings, modern HVAC systems, and safe student-teacher ratios required in even the AAP plans, and we find it disturbing that physician groups did not use their collective voice until now regarding the well-documented child health concerns (see Abbeville case).

Physicians seeking to help school staff throughout South Carolina should be pushing for adequate funding in schools. Unlike many pediatricians’ offices and hospitals, schools cannot choose which students to admit, cannot act for a limitation on how many children we see at a time, or how many people are in the room with them (something a recent AAP release demanded in hospitals), and we do not have cleaning protocols or even, in many case, modern and safe facilities.

We cannot, in good conscience, agree with these recommendations until the safety of every person entering a school building is prioritized. Until the number of COVID-19 cases decline and DHEC requirements are met as recommended by the Accelerate ED task force, schools should remain virtual to safeguard our students, their families, faculty and staff.

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