How Are Europe’s Children Going Back to School, While Our Schools Remain Empty?

I have written several articles on Education. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on education.

I tried something different in this blog article, I used a lot of quotes from 2 sources to reinforce my belief that schools should and can open safely in the US. One source is , the second source is Thank you to both internet sources for great information.

Some schools imposed strict limits on contact between children, while others let them play freely. Some required masks, while others made them optional. Some closed temporarily if just one student was diagnosed with COVID-19; others stayed open even when multiple children or staff were affected, sending only ill people and direct contacts into quarantine.

The AAP’s position is as follows: “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.”

Their recommendation continues, “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. Length time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.”

Continued closures risk “scarring the life chances of a generation of young people,” according to an open letter published this month and signed by more than 1500 members of the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH). Virtual education is often a pale shadow of the real thing and left many parents juggling jobs and childcare. Lower-income children who depend on school meals were going hungry. And there were hints that children were suffering increased abuse, now that school staff could no longer spot and report early signs of it. It was time, a growing chorus said, to bring children back to school.

By early June, more than 20 countries had done just that. (Some others, including Taiwan, Nicaragua, and Sweden, never closed their schools.) It was a vast, uncontrolled experiment.

Some schools imposed strict limits on contact between children, while others let them play freely. Some required masks, while others made them optional. Some closed temporarily if just one student was diagnosed with COVID-19; others stayed open even when multiple children or staff were affected, sending only ill people and direct contacts into quarantine.

As schools reopened, many embraced physical distancing for students to prevent viral spread. But although the strategy is effective, it is leaving more and more scientists, pediatricians, and parents deeply uncomfortable. They hunger for a compromise that protects communities from COVID-19 while supporting the mental health of young people. “There has to be a level of risk that we’re willing to take if a child’s in school” says Kate Zinszer, an epidemiologist at the University of Montreal.

Schools are “where our children run around, play and laugh and argue with each other. They need to return to that sort of a healthy normality as soon as possible,” Russell Viner, RCPCH’s president said in a statement last month.  

From the start, some countries bet on strands of research suggesting young children are unlikely to spread the virus: schools in the Netherlands cut class sizes in half but didn’t enforce distancing among students under age 12 when they reopened in April. Other schools adopted a “pod” model as a compromise. Denmark, the first country in Europe to reopen schools, assigned children to small groups that could congregate at recess. It also found creative ways to give those groups as much space and fresh air as possible, even teaching classes in a graveyard. Some classes in Belgium met in churches to keep students spread out. Finland has kept normal class sizes, but prevents classes from mixing with one another.

Should kids wear masks?

Masks likely blunt spread at school, but children—even more than adults—find them uncomfortable to wear for hours and may lack the self-discipline to wear them without touching their faces or freeing their noses. Does discomfort override a potential public health benefit?

“For me, masks are part of the equation” for slowing the spread of COVID-19 in schools, especially when distancing is difficult, says Susan Coffin, an infectious disease physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Respiratory droplets are a major mode of [virus] transmission,” she says, and wearing a mask places an obstacle in those droplets’ path.

In China, South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam—where masks are already widely accepted and worn by many during flu season—schools require them for almost all students and their teachers. China allows students to remove masks only for lunch, when children are separated by glass or plastic partitions. Israel requires masks for children older than age 7 outside the classroom, and for children in fourth grade and above all day—and they comply, says Aflalo, who has 8- and 11-year-old boys. On the bus ride to school, “all the kids are sitting with masks on,” she says. “They don’t take them off. They listen to the orders.”

Elsewhere, masks are less central. In some schools in Germany, students wear them in hallways or bathrooms, but can remove them when seated at their (distantly spaced) desks. Austria reopened with this approach, but abandoned masks for students a few weeks later, when officials observed little spread within schools. In Canada, Denmark, Norway, the United Kingdom, and Sweden, mask wearing was optional for both students and staff.

Not all countries have the luxury of instituting a mask policy driven by science and comfort. Benin requires masks in public spaces, but because the cost can be prohibitive for families, schools do not turn maskless students away. Students in Ghana returned to school in May wearing masks—if they had them. South Africa, which faces a rising COVID-19 caseload, is racing to provide free masks to all students who need them.

Do schools spread the virus to the wider community?

Because children so rarely develop severe symptoms, experts have cautioned that open schools might pose a much greater risk to teachers, family members, and the wider community than to students themselves. Many teachers and other school staff are understandably nervous about returning to the classroom. In surveys of U.S. school districts, as many as one-third of staff say they prefer to stay away. Science could find few reports of deaths or serious illnesses from COVID-19 among school staff, but information is sparse. Several teachers have died of COVID-19 complications in Sweden, where schools did not modify class sizes or make other substantive adjustments.

Early data from European countries suggest the risk to the wider community is small. At least when local infection rates are low, opening schools with some precautions does not seem to cause a significant jump in infections elsewhere.

It’s hard to be sure, because in most places, schools reopened in concert with other aspects of public life. But in Denmark, nationwide case numbers continued to decline after day care centers and elementary schools opened on 15 April, and middle and high schools followed in May. In the Netherlands, new cases stayed flat and then dropped after elementary schools opened part-time on 11 May and high schools opened on 2 June. In Finland, Belgium, and Austria, too, officials say they found no evidence of increased spread of the novel coronavirus after schools reopened.

These sources I referenced help to show that schools can be opened, but there has to be some changes made. The schools that did not take corrective actions paid the price with the death of several teachers. But what is interesting, no children died even in these instances. I am fairly certain most people when asked to honestly answer the question about schools without political biasing and with only the children in mind, will agree that the schools should definitely open this fall. But the question is can they put the children first? I guess we will know the answer in a few months.

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