- In the US, 19% of parents are still unsure whether or not to send their kids to school in person.
- While keeping children home might be safer in protecting against the coronavirus, it could interfere with parents' ability to work and can be isolating for kids.
- To help uncertain parents, Insider interviewed three physicians and an epidemiologist about their plans for the fall for their own children, and how they arrived at those decisions.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Schools in the US are scheduled to resume classes in a few weeks, but 19% of parents remain undecided about whether to send their children back in person, keep them home, or opt for a hybrid model that combines both virtual and live instruction.
There's still so much uncertainty because parents face an impossible choice.
On the one hand, many parents are burnt out from homeschooling. They're worried about their children falling behind academically and feeling isolated at home. On the other hand, sending children to a physical school building inevitably puts them, and the entire household, at risk for developing COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Insider spoke to three physicians and an epidemiologist who have school-age children and are confronting this quandary. Each one shared her own personal plans for the fall and how she arrived at those decisions.
A pediatrician who treated COVID-19 patients is sending her two children back to school
"The reason why it's so difficult right now to make these decisions is because there is no one- size-fits-all answer," said Dr. Hina Talib, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children's Hospital at Montefiore in Bronx, New York. "It really is a family-centered and community-based decision that has to be collaborative with all the members in your household."
Next month, Dr. Talib is going to send her children, who are four and two years old, back to school in person. Her children attend an independent school where class sizes are capped at about 16 students. Dr. Talib said she was comforted by the numerous safety precautions the school is taking.
The pediatrician, who treated coronavirus patients in New York City at the height of the pandemic, recommends parents take an "aged-based" approach when making their school decisions.
Since young children appear to be less likely to contract and spread COVID-19, Dr. Talib said she would prioritize in-person schooling for children who are 10 and younger. In-person schooling is particularly crucial for young children, since it's more difficult to virtually replicate the preschool experience, which centers on developing social skills and play skills, Dr. Talib said.
For middle schoolers and high schoolers, Dr. Talib said she would be more cautious.
"Biologically, teenagers seem to be more similar to adults in how sick they can get from COVID-19 and how much they can transmit it to others," Dr. Talib said.
An epidemiologist who's keeping her four kids home worries about the long-term effects of COVID-19
While sending her older children to school next month would make it infinitely easier for Rebekah Natanov to work from home, the Maryland-based epidemiologist has decided against it. She believes the coronavirus case rate in her area is still too high.
Natanov's oldest children, who are seven and six, attend a private school, which is opening remotely to start. Even if the school were to offer live instruction now, like other private schools in the area, Natanov said she still would've kept them home.
Her three-year-old attends a private school housed in a synagogue, which is offering in-person learning. Since the facility is used for religious services and other events, numerous people enter the building throughout the day, which was another reason why she decided against sending her preschooler back. She had always planned on keeping her baby at home.
In the past week, Montgomery County, where Natanov lives, reported a daily average of 44 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people. The mother of four said she would send her children to school once that rate drops to one in 100,000, which is the standard many European countries set before reopening schools.
For her family, Natanov said she's most concerned about the unknowns surrounding the disease.
"I'm not super paranoid about this. I understand, statistically speaking, we're all pretty young and healthy and likely to survive," she said. "Though, I do worry a lot about long-term consequences for children, which, we have no idea [about] still, since we're only five-plus months into the pandemic."
For families who are still deliberating whether to send back to school or not, Natanov recommends heeding the recommendations of local public health officials, except in cases where they're "not doing a good job at all."
She was specifically referring to officials in Georgia, Florida, and Texas. "Their schools are open and they shouldn't be," Natanov said.
A pediatrician who wrote a book about parenting in a pandemic is sending her kids back to school
Dr. Kelly Fradin, a pediatrician and author of "Parenting in a Pandemic: How to help your family through COVID-19," has enrolled her two children, who are two and six years old, in traditional in-person programs.
Fradin, who lives in New York City, said she feels comfortable sending her children back to school because the city has low rates of transmission, her children's school is taking vigilant safety precautions, and no one in her home is high-risk.
When weighing whether or not to send kids back to school, Fradin advises parents to also consider the coronavirus risks involved with staying home. That might mean investigating the cleanliness and the size of crowds at local playgrounds or communal playrooms. It also means inquiring about the protective measures other playmates, and their families, are taking.
"Schools may have more rigorous safety protocols in place than other places where children will congregate," Fradin told Insider. "If with remote or virtual instruction the parent's direct contact with other families or children will increase, it may in fact not be safer than in-person school.
After making a decision, Fradin urges parents to stick with it.
"Once you've decided, try not to second guess yourself," Fradin said. "When other people make other choices, it doesn't mean your decision is incorrect."
An infectious disease specialist chose a hybrid school model for her 3 children
Dr. Margaret Aldrich, Director of Pediatric Infection Control at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore, has three children and has opted for the hybrid learning model this fall. That means her children, who are in first through sixth grade, will attend school in person part time, and will learn remotely the rest of the time.
She and her husband decided to send their children to school in person partially out "out of necessity" Aldrich told Insider. Both parents work in healthcare, and they also felt it was important for their children to have in-person socialization opportunities with friends and teachers.
"Socialization is so important at those ages, even if it's not perfect," Dr. Aldrich said.
The mother of three also said that the low rates of community spread in New York City, coupled with the precautions the schools are taking, made her feel comfortable sending in person part of the time.
"We felt the risks are fewer than the benefits and having our children be safely present in schools is doable," Aldrich said.
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