Going Back To School for In-Person Learning with Strong Safety Protocols in Place Is the Right Move

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that K-12 schools could and ought to reopen with proper health protocols in place, the Hawaii Board of Education, Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE), working with Gov. David Ige and the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) made the right decision at this moment to resume in-person learning for the academic school year 2021-2022.

Having said this, should there be significant outbreaks of COVID-19 in the future that would significantly endanger students and teachers health, state officials and leaders must seriously reassess in-person teaching and possibly revert to virtual learning or a combination of both to minimize further risk.Currently, health experts say severe illness among young people are not widespread and not a problem. There are increased cases of COVID-19 due to the new variants, but health experts say hospitalization among kids are extremely few and rare.

CDC research also finds that children are unlikely to spread the virus in a massive scale. But this could change as the virus mutates and other variants arise.Given these health facts (at this moment) and weighing in the importance and benefits of in-person learning, the risk taken to reopen schools is worth the potential cost.

No association between the 2020 school closures and decreased rates of COVID-19
A reputable study published in the Journal of the American Association of Pediatric says that “although school closures in the spring of 2020 were reasonable, they may not have played as great of a role in slowing the spread of the new coronavirus as originally thought.”

And there are other studies that make the same conclusion. In the new study from the University of California Los Angeles led by Frederick Zimmerman, PhD, authors found, “Keeping schools closed in the spring turns out to have been unnecessary in hindsight, but definitely the right thing to do given what we knew at the time.”

School closures was extra burden on poor families
The authors of the study also point to the extra burden placed on families with the least resources in the Spring 2020 school closure. Many of these family members held jobs where they had to be at work physically and could not do work virtually as professional and white collar workers. So when schools were cancelled, they had to dramatically reduce their work hours to watch over their young children or lose their job entirely because they could not afford to hire a sitter M-F for hours.

Harmful side to virtual learning for kids
While virtual learning could be appropriate for adult learning by enabling them to work and continue their education, but for kids and teenagers in-person schooling is an essential part of socialization, health experts say.

Already health experts are saying students are beginning to feel the effects of social isolation by showing signs of anxiety and depression.

The same UCLA study says “many teens have since dropped out of high school or decided not to go to college, and while some of these students may go back to school, many will not.”While COVID-19 will eventually go away, the damage to these children’s future who decided to drop out of school or did not fulfill the requirements to graduate (due to a lack of guidance and structure or inability to access a computer) have long-lasting, life consequences.

Providing children with the best opportunities for learning — many academics say is through in-person learning — must be something our leaders owe our youth for their future and our nation’s future. We can do this as more proven ways to reduce and prevent the spread of COVID-19 are more known and following CDC guidelines.

Hawaii’s safety protocols and mitigation strategies
The existing layered mitigation strategies laid out by the State are reasonable at this given moment. They are cautionary, proven to be effective. Should conditions warrant due to alarming spread of the Covid virus, there could come a time (hopefully not needed) to toughen some of those safety protocols.

Currently the HIDOE has not made it mandatory for eligible students for vaccination to get vaccinated. Hawaii teachers and staff must get vaccinated or must undergo weekly testing at their expense.

But if health experts are saying the most effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19 is through vaccination, the State and counties should consider a mandate for both eligible students and teachers (without weekly testing as an option) to get vaccinated if it becomes necessary in the future. Some private schools already mandate vaccination for their eligible students. Again, our children need to be in school learning in person.

The state should be applauded for their school-based vaccination clinics that will continue throughout the school year.

One area not included in Hawaii’s mitigation plan is testing. The DOH is working to implement weekly voluntary testing on unvaccinated students. As long as vaccination is not mandated, testing of the unvaccinated should be included in Hawaii’s mitigation strategy at schools.We are encouraged to see in-person learning resumed in Hawaii. May our students get the most from their education, achieve academic success and stay healthy.

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