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Are there benefits to having kids in school during a pandemic?

Published on August 5, 2020

Parents, teachers, and policymakers are grappling with the reality of COVID-19 this school year. As schools open all over the country, many are concerned about what it could mean for the health of the children, teachers, and the people they all go home to.

For parents worried about the health and safety of their children from COVID-19, some new evidence from China says they’re unlikely to suffer the most severe symptoms. School-age children are also less likely to die from COVID-19 compared to adults according to another study, although some children do develop the severe form of the disease and may succumb.

Staying home from school may cause some unintended harm. Children can experience emotional trauma and behavioral problems if they are forced to stay home for another semester. Children coming from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds can miss out on nutrition provided at school. 

Schools help to supplement nutrition deficiencies and inequalities many children experience. The CDC reports 30 million children participate in a school lunch program, and 15 million more participate in a school breakfast program. For these students, a school may provide half of their daily calorie requirements. Some schools began special programs to continue their meal programs through the extended quarantine. But this strategy may be complicated for many school districts to continue.

Students may live in unstable or violent households. The CDC reports a decrease in reported child abuse since schools closed down for COVID-19; however, there’s been sizeable increase evidence of child abuse reported by doctors and hospital emergency rooms. This indicates a classroom setting may be providing a layer of safety for students where teachers can alert other authorities for signs of abuse. 

Special needs students and those with disabilities may miss out on the therapies and the experts they depend on in a school setting. An article in the journal, Lancet argues, closing school may widen the inequality gap for many children.

There are obvious economic benefits for keeping children in school during an outbreak. For instance, parents can give increased energy and attention to their work while their children are safe at school. However, the decision to open school may be best informed by the risks to children and teachers. Schools provide substantial benefits to students, especially disadvantaged students, by providing a safe environment and nutritional support. The best available evidence on COVID-19 indicates low risks to school-aged children in areas with low community transmission, according to the CDC.

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