Pediatrician ponders back-to-school dilemma
Should schools open as usual for the new school year?
Should students stay home taking classes via Zoom?
Or should schools offer a hybrid schedule with two days in the classroom and two days at home?
Educators in Santa Barbara County, along with those throughout the country, are grappling with this COVID-19 quandary as schools are supposed to re-open next month.
“There is no right way to do it. Nothing is a perfect solution,” said Dr. Ricardo Flores, a pediatrician on the staff at Dignity Health Central Coast in Santa Maria, when asked his thoughts about the dilemma.
“The school districts are facing great challenges. Different districts have different challenges, depending on how bad the pandemic is in the area and what community resources are available.”
One of the problems, he pointed out, is that many families may have access to computers and tablets, but there is no WiFi in the home for online classes.
“While the ultimate goal is to go back to a normal schedule, we are nowhere near ready,” said Dr. Flores. “How do you keep students 6 feet apart? And how do you keep them in the classroom for the entire day? From a mental health standpoint, they feel confined and isolated. At the same time, we’re expecting them to get a quality education.”
There is also the problem of students going to the restrooms.
“Will the bathrooms be cleaned between students?” he asked.
Dr. Flores urges parents who are concerned about the plan for their children’s school to contact the administrators and discuss if they will be following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for reducing the spread of the coronavirus and maintaining a safe and clean school building:
— Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces in the school and on buses at least daily.
— Limiting the use of shared art supplies, toys and gym equipment.
— Keeping each child’s belongings separated from others.
— Providing ventilation systems with circulation of outdoor air.
— Spacing seats and desks 6 feet apart. Turning desks that face each other to face the same direction or have children sit on one side of the table.
— Creating space on buses by keeping one child per row and skipping rows if possible.
— Installing barriers and sneeze guards where needed, like in offices, or tape lines on floors or sidewalks.
— Closing all communal spaces like cafeterias, dining halls and playgrounds.
— Having children bring their own meals or serving individually plated meals in classrooms with disposable utensils.
— Setting staggered arrival and drop-off times to limit contact between students and parents.
Dr. Rene Bravo, a pediatrician on the staff at Dignity Health Central Coast in San Luis Obispo, encourages gentle, age-appropriate conversations between parents and children to review hygiene practices such as the importance of hand washing and coughing or sneezing into the elbow.
“Daily parental monitoring of children’s temperature and overall health and wellness is also essential, and keeping unwell children home is recommended,” said Dr. Bravo.
“Ongoing conversations about how the pandemic may alter the school day will help provide awareness and understanding to the children when they encounter changes, such as the discontinuation of shared drinking fountains on school campuses. Frequent conversations with children will help them better recognize and implement these precautionary steps.”