My boys do not want to wear pants.
A small factor, but part of the reason they campaigned for remote learning. My daughter, who generally prefers clothing, remained on the fence.
The remote vs. in-person learning decision has so many different factors it is very difficult as a pediatrician to give families a single clear answer.
As new data emerges, it further confounds a family’s decision that seemed crystal clear just 2 internet articles ago.
Several people have asked point blank, “What are you doing for your own kids?”
If I have left your text unanswered or have not replied to your email or Facebook comment, I apologize! A binary, “remote” or “in-person” response seemed too hasty and irresponsible.
While every family will have their own personal best answer, I hope sharing how my wife and I arrived at our decision will benefit the process for other parents.
To start off, some demographics are in order:
Our children are 12, 14, and 16 years of age – boy (7th grade), boy (9th grade), girl (11th grade) respectively. I am a pediatrician and my wife is a former elementary school teacher and now stay-at-home mom.
We are zoned to Cy-Fair Independent School District and the schools our children attend are Title 1 schools, with an eclectic mix of socio-economic backgrounds.
The first and most important factor in making our decision was the health of our children. As of the writing of this blog, the overall risk to healthy children from COVID-19 is very small.
The CDC keeps a provisional death count by age, and as of August 1, 2020, there have been a total of 42 deaths in children younger that 15 years for the entire country. To put things in perspective there have been 185 deaths due to influenza in children younger than 18 for the 2019-20 season. Overall, children have fared extremely well with the pandemic in terms of deaths and medical complications.
If I were only factoring in the health risk to our children, I would feel safe sending them to school, given a few caveats that I will get to later in this blog.
Our home is solely occupied by our nuclear family (no grandparents) and everyone is in relatively good health with no underlying health conditions.
If we had people over 60 living at home (the older the more concerning) or if someone at home had a serious underlying medical problem, I would be much more concerned about in-person learning.
The newest data from Chicago shows that, contrary to earlier studies, young children do get infected and do have high levels of virus.
Further, in a study from a Georgia sleep-away camp of all ages, of 344 campers and staff for whom tests were available, 260 tested positive after just a few days at camp.
The vast majority of kids may not get seriously ill, but it appears they can bring it home, and as such, an important part of the decision making process has to include the risk to family members.
The initial data from Europe, Asia, and Australia was quite comforting in terms of community spread risk from reopening schools. It is important to note that local COVID-19 caseload numbers were low and under control in the countries that reopened schools.
Epidemiologists all agree that schools will contribute to spread in some fashion, but to what extent is still up for debate. The pendulum appears to be swinging towards children being as infectious as adults.
Ultimately, regardless of children’s infectiousness, the more important factor affecting community spread will be a school’s ability to follow certain protocols: masking, social distancing, and sanitizing. If these measures are rigorously followed, community spread should be minimal.
Additionally, it will be prudent to pay attention to local COVID-19 statistics. If caseloads are rising and hospital are overwhelmed, school closures may be necessitated.
Another important factor in community spread will be the population density at each school. As more families opt out of in-person learning, it will commensurately improve the risk for those who do attend, including the risk to our educators, many of whom will not have a choice but to be physically present.
For those who have the ability to do so, I encourage you to strongly consider remote learning to lessen the risk for those who cannot.
A child’s aptitude for learning remotely has to be a major factor. For some children, the value of in-person school is enormous.
Can they learn independently?
Can they focus for extended periods of time?
Will the lack of peer stimulation hamper their education?
Attending in-person school may get interrupted from time-to-time should quarantine and isolation protocols be triggered by someone in the classroom testing positive for COVID-19.
This may force remote learning for periods of time, disrupting the continuity and flow of school.
For those kids who do not do well with change, remote learning may be the better option.
These were some of the variables that my wife and I contemplated as we arrived at our decision. We let our children voice their opinions as well, which we factored in.
So what did we decide?
I thought my wife said it perfectly, so with her permission, I have copied her words from her recent Facebook post.
“We are going online for the first grading period for the following reasons:
· Online instruction will be live and interactive (as opposed to the video lessons we did last spring).
· My kids are able to focus fairly well with the online learning.
· They actually are not going insane with the lack of peer interaction (they see some friends occasionally, with safety measures in place). I know this is a big deal for a lot of kids, and I totally get it.
· Our school community is around 70% low income. A lot of those families would benefit from in-person instruction, so we will be 3 less kids on campus to try to help with the numbers.
· If school has to shut down, we won’t have to transition from in-person to online instruction (I still can’t wrap my head around what this will look like).
· Masking for long periods of time is hard. So is wearing pants.
So this is our decision. We will do this for the first grading period and see how it goes. Stuff is constantly changing, so it’s hard to plan ahead this far in advance. We still have a lot of questions about how things will work, but we just have to wait and see.”
As my wife mentioned, this is a decision in flux that may change as new data or family issues emerge.
But at least for the first six weeks, my boys will be pants-less.