The American Academy of Pediatrics this week released guidance advocating for US students to return to in-person learning this fall.  The guidance says that 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.”

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Along with offering key principles for school re-entry, the AAP says that there is a significant negative impact on students due to school closures.

“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,” reads the guidance.

The AAP cites learning loss and social isolation as important reasons to reopen schools, even if there is some risk involved.

“Lengthy 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. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality.”

The negative impacts of remote learning are felt most severely by Black children, Brown children, low-income children and kids with learning disabilities.

“Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families,” says the AAP.

It is well known that the risk for infection and transmission of COVID-19 among children is relatively low, and the AAP says that returning kids to the classroom should be the priority, even if strict social distancing with desks six feet apart cannot be adhered to as the risk reduction cannot justify the potential harms due to lack of learning and social interaction.

Though Governor Murphy has said that NJ schools will reopen this fall, the state’s 500 plus school districts are still not sure what that will look like, and whether classes will be in-person learning this fall, or if it will be remote, or a hybrid of the two options.

“Parents, families, students, teachers and staff all need to work together to make this happen,” says Amna Husain, MD, a pediatrician with Pure Direct Pediatrics in Marlboro. “The reality is schools are an important and critical aspect of the community. If we don’t practice safe precautions here and implement contact tracing, the situation could get out of hand. The converse could be difficult as well- growing nightmares, tantrums, anxiety, depression in our kids. Serious effects of this crisis on children are going to have an impact on learning loss. Putting students back in school safely should be a top priority. We owe this to our children.”

Meanwhile, the CDC has just added three new symptoms of COVID-19: congestion or runny nose, nausea, and diarrhea. But since these symptoms can also be indicative of other ailments, there’s still little certainty on how to proceed. And even if schools do fully re-open, will it be feasible for kids with underlying medical conditions to attend?

School districts are also grappling with questions such as, is it feasible to require children to wear face masks all day, and how will any of these new rules be enforced?

Clearly there are still many questions to be answered before we know what school will look like for New Jersey’s students in September.