Coronavirus forces parents of kindergartners to choose between sending them to school or holding them back | #covid19 | #kids | #childern

Parents of children entering kindergarten face a gut-wrenching decision amid the coronavirus pandemic — send kids to class where they’ll be exposed to young classmates who may or may not wear masks, or hold them back and wait for a vaccine.

Madhavi Dais said she and her husband likely will hold their 4-year-old son, Kavith, back a year unless Brackett Elementary School in Arlington offers an all-remote option for students.

“We just don’t feel comfortable sending a small child to school and expecting them to remember to wear a mask, social distance and wash their hands often for 20 seconds,” said Dais, 36. “A child who’s been in quarantine is going to be excited to see their friends. It’s a slippery slope. Why risk it?”

The main reason for kindergarten, she added, is not academics, but self-regulation and social and emotional health — all things they can learn at home.

Other parents disagree. Elinor Actipis, the mother of a 5-year-old, Max, who is slated to enter kindergarten in the fall at Amigos Elementary School in Cambridge, belongs to Bring Kids Back MA, a group of parents, teachers and community leaders who believe that if remote learning is the only option children are given this fall, the achievement gap among students, among states and among those who can afford private school versus those who can’t will only increase.

“Remote learning is not ideal. Kids need to learn, they need socialization, and some rely on school even for meals,” said Actipis, 43. “I think we should focus on protecting the vulnerable — the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions — and get kids back to school, where they can get a real education.”

On March 17, all elementary and secondary public and private schools in Massachusetts were ordered to cease in-person instruction, as part of the statewide plan to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. The closure was later extended to last through the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

But in the fall school reopening guide issued on Thursday, Jeffrey C. Riley, commissioner of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said that in Massachusetts, children under the age of 19 were about four times less likely than the population at large to be diagnosed with COVID-19.

“At this time, the evidence suggests schools have not played a significant role in COVID-19 transmission and that children, particularly younger children, are less likely than adults to be infected with COVID-19,” Riley said. “Furthermore, if they become infected, it appears children may be less likely to transmit COVID-19 to others.”

The state’s guidelines also require all students in second grade and above to wear masks while encouraging masks for students in kindergarten and first grade.

After consulting infectious disease physicians, pediatricians and other public health experts, Riley said, “we believe that when we follow critical health requirements, we can safely return to in-person school this fall,” provided the current positive public health metrics hold.

“At the same time,” he added, “DESE is requiring each district and school to also plan for remote learning, as well as a hybrid school model — a combination of in-person and remote learning — should local conditions change this fall or winter.”

The Massachusetts Chapter of the Academy of Pediatrics endorsed the reopening guide, the final version of which will be released in the coming weeks.

Whether to send your child to school is a difficult decision for parents of kindergartners because they’ve never been to school before, said Dr. Lloyd Fisher, the chapter’s incoming president.

“Especially for students near the age cutoff for kindergarten, I could see this would factor in the decision, but you wouldn’t want that child to lose social and emotional development,” Fisher said. “I still feel school is an extremely safe place for children to be. This has not been shown to be a serious illness in the vast majority of children.”


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