COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry
American Academy of Pediatrics Interim Clinical Guidance
To view the full Interim Guidance online, click here.
The purpose of this guidance revision is to continue to support communities, local leadership in education and public health, and pediatricians collaborating with schools in creating policies for school re-entry during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that foster the overall health of children, adolescents, educators, staff, and communities and are based on available evidence. Along with our colleagues in the field of education, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly advocates for additional federal assistance to schools throughout the United States, with no restrictions regarding their plans for in-person versus virtual learning. Regardless, in places in the United States with high levels of community transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, where in-person learning is not possible, these schools will also need more assistance, not less, to support the additional staffing needs, alternative learning sites, hybrid educational models, and child care.
Schools and school-supported programs are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well- being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, either in person or virtually; social and emotional skills; safety; reliable nutrition; physical/speech therapy and mental health services; and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits. Schools also serve as critical centers in communities by supporting adult-focused activities (such as job training, neighborhood meetings, and parenting classes) as well as ensuring safe places for children and adolescents to be while parents or guardians are working, which in turn supports the local economy.
Beyond supporting the educational development of children and adolescents, schools play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity. As such, it is critical to reflect on the differential impact the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated school closures have had on different racial and ethnic groups and vulnerable populations. The AAP condemns the persistent racial and social inequities that exist within the US educational system. The disparities in school funding, quality of school facilities, educational staffing, and resources for enriching curriculum between schools have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Families rely on schools to provide child care; a safe, stimulating space for children to learn; opportunities for socialization; and access to school-based mental, physical, and nutritional health services. Without adequate support for families to access these services, disparities will likely worsen, especially for children who are English language learners, children with disabilities, children living in poverty, and children of African American/Black, Latinx/Hispanic, and Native American/Alaska Native origin.1,2
For children and adolescents in virtual learning models, educational disparities may widen further. According to the Pew Research Center, 1 in 5 teenagers are not able to complete schoolwork at home because of lack of a computer or internet connection.3 This technological “homework gap” disproportionately affects Black, Hispanic, and low-income families.3
The AAP strongly recommends that school districts promote racial/ethnic and social justice by promoting the well-being of all children in any school-reopening plan, particularly children living in marginalized communities. To address these disparities, federal, state, and local governments should allocate resources to provide equitable access to educational supports. These recommendations are provided, acknowledging that our understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic is changing rapidly.
Any school re-entry policies should consider the following key principles: