Rory Devine

How Should Parents Decide to Send Their Children Back to School for In-Person Instruction?

There are guidelines that must be followed. Know what they are, ask the school what has been done, assess the risk to family members at home and make a choice

NBC Universal, Inc.

With more people getting vaccinated and COVID-19 case rates declining, more school districts could reopen or expand their reopenings. So, how do parents who are undecided know if schools will be safe?

“There will be no perfect safety, so when you say is it safe, that's already too simple of a question,” said Doctor Andrea LaCroix, distinguished professor and chief of epidemiology at UCSD's Schools of Public Health. “The question is how safe is it, and how safe can we make it for kids to go back to school?”

The California Department of Public Health has issued guidelines for the safe reopening of schools. It lays out in detail how the state determined it is safe to reopen, based on studies it says were chosen for their rigor, rather than because they support a certain position.

The studies explain why children get COVID-19 less frequently than adults and have less severe symptoms. They also show children that most often get it from household contacts, that transmission among or from students is uncommon, and that there is low risk of transmission in elementary schools.

It also details necessary core strategies: screening for symptoms, testing for those who show symptoms, wearing masks, physical distancing and having enhanced ventilation with open windows.

So how do parents follow that science? Doctor LaCroix said they should read the state guidelines so they know what to expect in school environments. They can also visit their child's school and make sure those guidelines are being followed. These steps can help after parents have assessed their own family's risk threshold, LaCroix said.

"Ask yourself is this risk acceptable to me?" LaCroix said. "Can I send my children back to school now because of all the benefits of in-person schooling? Am I willing to take the risk which has been minimized in all these ways? That's the best we can do."

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