This story is part of “Parenting in a Pandemic,” WTOP’s continuing coverage of how parents are dealing with child care, schooling and more through the coronavirus pandemic.
For many parents grappling with how to keep their children safe during the coronavirus pandemic, a key decision has already been made for them: Many schools around the D.C. area will begin the academic year with virtual classrooms, with leaders determining it’s not yet safe enough for students and teachers to go back yet.
But a few school systems in the region are bringing students back to the classroom, at least some of the time, as are some private schools. Day care centers also have opened up again.
When making the decision whether to send your kids back to school, there is no right answer for everyone, experts say. Still, there are some things at which you should take a closer look.
“First of all, obviously, consider what the plans are for school and also what the level of disease is in your community and what your family vulnerabilities are,” said Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
It’s possible to make schools safe for kids this fall, but “it all depends on what’s happening in the surrounding community,” she said.
If coronavirus cases are rising, it’s difficult to make teachers feel safe in returning school, she said, and it’s possible schools that reopen could be forced to close their doors again.
Making sure teachers feel safe is going to be paramount in making sure the return to school works for everyone, Nuzzo said.
“We have to do the work,” she added. “It’s not going to serve our children well if the teachers are there and they feel uncomfortable being there.”
But even if infection rates in the surrounding community are either stabilized or declining, Nuzzo said lots of other decisions you make that have nothing to do with school will still impact the feasibility that kids can get back into the classroom without issue.
“It’s going to help a lot if we make decisions in other aspects of our lives that reduce our exposure,” said Nuzzo. “That can keep case numbers in the surrounding community down and decrease the possibility of bringing the virus to school. Those kinds of decisions are going to be really important for allowing schools to remain open.
“I hope it’s something we choose to do as a society,” she added.
Getting kids back in school is “critically important” for both parents and children, Nuzzo said.
She noted that on top of the educational and social benefits that kids get being in the classroom, there’s also a health aspect with so many students in the U.S. relying on schools to provide breakfast and lunch. Having kids back in the classroom has economic benefits, since that makes it easier for parents to go back to work.
“I hope that we prioritize the reopening of schools,” said Nuzzo, though she hinted that other aspects of society may be asked to sacrifice to make that happen.
“That may mean making tougher choices in other aspects of our lives in order to reduce the chances that we’ll become infected and spread the virus within our community,” she warned.
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