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Should you send your child back to school in the fall? 5 questions to consider

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and former health commissioner for Baltimore, chats with Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski about the reopening of schools amid COVID-19.
Coronavirus Pandemic Causes Climate Of Anxiety And Changing Routines In America
School buses are parked in a lot, idled by the closing of schools in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, on March 17, 2020 in Gardena, Calif.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

The battle over reopening schools in the fall amid increasing cases of COVID-19 is heating up.

Will schools reopen? And if so, how?

“There are so many uncertainties right now. Make plans, but also stay flexible,” advised Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and former health commissioner for Baltimore. “And don't hesitate to speak up now and get involved with your school, as they make decisions between now and when schools are set to reopen in the fall.”

As you consider options for your child, here are some questions you should be asking yourself:

1. What is the level of the virus in the community?

“This is the single most important determinant of how safe it will be for your child at school,” said Dr. Wen. “It's not possible for a school to stay coronavirus-free if the community is a virus hotspot. The school district administration should have contingency plans for what school will look like with different levels of infection in the community.”

2. What is my child's health risk?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of conditions that increase the risk of severe illness from coronavirus. This came out a few weeks ago and is based on new research, noted Dr. Wen. “Check the list and see if your child — and you and anyone else in your immediate household —has these risk factors. The more risk factors you have, the higher the risk.”

3. What procedures does the school have in place to protect my child?

The CDC has issued guidelines that include symptom screening, wearing masks and various ways of physical distancing (i.e. spacing out desks, reducing classroom sizes, stopping assemblies, etc).

“The school should also have guidance on what happens if there are infections — how will they inform parents? At what point will it shut down? Ask for a written copy of what your school is doing and compare it against the CDC guidelines,” advised Dr. Wen. “An important component of infection control is keeping kids in one class separate from other kids in their own ‘pod.’ If the CDC guidelines are not being put into place, you may consider getting other parents together to ask why not and request that they are.”

4. What are the alternatives to in-person instruction?

All schools should have some type of alternative for medically-vulnerable students and teachers, said Dr. Wen. She said parents should ask themselves, “Is full- or part-time virtual learning available and what's the quality of the instruction? How many other students are likely to choose this route?”

5. Is in-person instruction necessary for some other reason in your child's and your life?

“Many parents may need to send their kids back to school because they have to work themselves,” noted Dr. Wen. “There are also kids who may need in-person schooling for other reasons, including special needs that are not able to be met in other ways. If this is the case, make sure to think about what happens if your child ends up getting sent home — either because the school gets closed or because of illness or exposure. What are the plans that you need to make at your work? If the school is open part-time only, what other childcare arrangements do you also need to make?”