Will schools be safe this fall?

Q&A with UCLA pediatric infectious disease specialist Nava Yeganeh
Children in front of school
Yeganeh noted that not having in-person school can create an important health gap for children.

As schools begin to share their plans for reopening, concern is growing over how to safely protect children, their families and teachers as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to surge.

The alternative to children returning to the classroom is remote learning, an option that Los Angeles Unified School District has announced it will implement. But that, too, presents its own challenges for families.

In an interview with UCLA Health, Dr. Nava Yeganeh, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital who serves on several school COVID-19 task forces, shares her advice about the precautions that are necessary to create a safe learning environment for children and their families this fall.

Will it be safe for children to go back to school this fall?

Schools should follow infection-control protocols created by the California Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics in order to create a safe environment for students, faculty and staff. If schools can implement appropriate infection-prevention measures, the benefits for children of returning to in-person instruction in the classroom are, I believe, immeasurable.

COVID-19 does not seem to directly affect the health of children in the same way it affects the health of adults — the evidence to date suggests that young children are less likely to transmit the virus to adults compared to adult-to-adult or adult-to-child transmission — but we do know that not having in-person school can create an important health gap for kids.

Schools provide not only education, but also food and safety, as well as resources for children with special needs. And in school, there is adult supervision that can pick up on and report signs of abuse.

What are the biggest concerns about keeping kids at home?

There are several deficiencies to distance learning. If the home does not have a computer or adequate access to the internet, for example, it is a poor environment for homeschooling. If there is not appropriate space for a child to work or an adult in the house who can oversee the child's learning, the virtual model doesn't work.

Having resources such as a computer and internet access often are linked to being in a home that is financially secure. Thus, children from homes with economic resources will benefit more from remote learning than those from homes without, creating a two-tiered system and educational inequity. 

Read the full interview.

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