With schools and parents divided on mask and vaccine requirements, many school districts plan to be completely personal this fall – and hope for the best.
“We’re all in it together,” said Michael Lubelfeld, superintendent of the North Shore School District, north of Chicago.
Lubelfeld said he will follow the recently announced statewide school mask mandate from Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and “strongly encourage” vaccinations for eligible students.
Illinois saw cases last week a 46% increase, a seven-day average of nearly 1,669 new coronavirus cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
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According to CDC data, the US has finally hit the nationwide target of 70% for adults with at least one shot of a Covid vaccine.
However, the rate is much lower for schoolchildren over the age of 12. In fact, teenagers have the lowest rate of any age group, putting personal learning at risk just weeks before the start of a new academic year.
School closings clearly have a negative impact on children’s health, warns the United Nations Health Authority, citing setbacks in children’s education and development, family incomes and the economy as a whole.
“It is recommended by all that children attend school in person; however, we need to see where the pandemic is headed,” said Tina Tan, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine.
“If we continue to see an increase in Covid, some schools may become hybrid or virtual again.”
The hope is that the students will return to the classroom, but I had more hope a few months ago.
Professor of Medicine at the University of Michigan
Due to the delta variant, the number of cases is already higher when the plans for starting school are tackled. Still, children with Covid infection are less likely to develop symptoms, and if symptoms do develop it is usually a very mild form of the disease.
“The hope is that students will return to the classroom, but I had more hope a few months ago,” said Preeti Malani, professor of medicine in infectious diseases at the University of Michigan.
“Returning to the classroom is not a zero risk, but that risk can be reduced,” said Malani.
“I believe we will be able to stay personal, but we all need to be prepared that outbreaks are inevitable,” said Susan Enfield, principal of Highline Public Schools, a district of nearly 18,000 students near by Seattle. “We just need to have really clear health and safety protocols.”
Masking, social distancing, hand hygiene, and better ventilation can all help make schools safer for students and teachers, experts say, but many institutions have struggled to maintain these standards with limited space and budget.
To make matters worse, decisions about masking and vaccination regulations are politically divided. In some states, elected officials have made masks mandatory for students in schools, while others said such rules are illegal.
“We’ve had school vaccination mandates for over 100 years, ”said Bob Bollinger, professor of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and inventor of the emocha Health app.
“Vaccine mandates are nothing new,” he added. “What is new is that this is a new virus and there is some insufficient long-term data to convince some people.“
In fact, there are many vaccination requirements in place for students enrolled in school to prevent the spread of diseases such as polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough.
All 50 states have at least some vaccination requirements for children who attend public schools and even those who attend private schools and daycare. In each case there are medical exceptions and in some cases religious or philosophical exceptions.
Once it’s fully approved, some states may add Covid-19 to their list of required vaccinations for school attendance. In most cases, these vaccination laws would apply to both public and private schools, with the same exceptions depending on the state.
Although private schools have the right to require vaccinations for students, the majority said they would “encourage but not require,” Covid vaccines, according to a recent report by the National Association of Independent Schools.
If we want to keep our shops and schools open, the best way is to get vaccinated.
Professor of Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Hundreds of public and private colleges and universities have already announced that Covid vaccinations will be added to the list of required vaccinations for students returning to campus in fall 2021.
In the future, a lot will depend on what happens across the country, said Bollinger. “If we want to keep our shops and schools open, the best way to do this is to get vaccinated.”
Reports of “significant” academic learning losses in school districts across the country underscore concern about the toll virtual learning has had on all levels of education.
“Distance learning doesn’t work,” said Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
“Not only do the children have to go back to school, but we also have to repair the damage we have done.”
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