Michigan schools, parents face tough choice for fall as time runs out

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, educators across Michigan are finding no perfect answer on how to resume learning for students.

“If schools reopen, there will inevitably be cases,” said Dr. Eric Kessell, an epidemiologist from Wayne State University’s public health program. “There have to be plans in place for how they are going to manage these cases that are inevitable.”
So keep kids home, right?
Not necessarily, said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There really have been substantial public health negative consequences for children not being in school,” he said in a July 24 briefing. “We are hoping that people will see the substantial benefits to their children, and particularly … individuals that have been socially disadvantaged, to get them back in school, get them back learning. We have seen, obviously, increases of adolescent suicide, adolescent drug use disorder.”
School officials must make these decisions with other questions looming like:
Time is running out to decide. Districts across the state face an Aug. 15 deadline to submit their plans for how they will kick off an unprecedented school year.
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Some districts already have said they plan to teach online only, at least to start. Others are preparing to welcome students, teachers and other staffers back in person, albeit with lots of safety protocols in place. Still others have hybrid plans, where younger kids go to class and older kids stay home.
Some schools plan to reduce class sizes by having groups of students attend different days of the week or different hours of the day. Most districts are beefing up their online education offerings for kids who can’t or won’t come to class because of health concerns.
The CDC has issued guidelines for reopening schools, saying those that offer face-to-face learning should require social distancing and cloth face coverings. They also recommend frequent handwashing, reduced class sizes and frequent cleaning of surfaces.
“It’s in the best public health interests, the K-12, for them to get back in school,” said Redfield, who serves on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. “I understand trepidation and I understand the worry. … I think what we are trying to do is give factual, practical understanding, particularly, which should be fairly reassuring.”
Citing CDC data, Redfield said the virus generally isn’t as severe in children. For those under the age of 18, the mortality rate is 1 in a million. In all, 64 children in the U.S. had died of the virus and its complications as of July 21. Among them was 5-year-old Skylar Hebert of Detroit.
“It is clearly not a serious significant pathogen in individuals under 18,” Redfield said. “That said, it can be quite serious if there is someone that has significant comorbities at home, and the child happens to be infected, and so these are the things to balance.”
Redfield said parents must weigh those concerns against the health consequences of continuing to remain isolated. Others agreed.
“I’m not very concerned about children getting sick and the negative impact on the kids themselves,” said Dr. Alison Tribble, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. “Obviously, there is some serious illness that happens, but it’s still extremely rare.
“If we put good measures into place to prevent transmission between kids like masks, social distancing, cohorting, all of those things, and we also do a really good job of keeping even mildly symptomatic kids out of school, I think it’s certainly worth a try. But each family is going to need to assess for themselves whether they have an at-risk person in that household that maybe would be a much higher risk if they brought COVID into the house. And same thing is true for school staff.”
When it comes to children and transmission of the virus, there are still many unknowns, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a livestreamed interview Monday with the Journal of the America…
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