School Re-entry, Coronavirus, and a Lousy Statement by the AAP

This current Covid / schools statement is rubbish. Again, I’m agreeing schools need to re-open. I’m disagreeing with their lack of concern for educators. Their verbiage is objectively lousy, and it needs to be said.

Friends, I try not to go on long posts, but forgive me. This is a summer of upheaval – and given so many other issues, perhaps this is less important. I recognize that. Given my background and current role, I feel like maybe I can do something here (probably not, but I have to try). This may not be important to you, and if it isn’t, just ignore this blog right now.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) put out a statement “COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry.” The link is below. For the record, I read the entire thing (not some news agency report on it).

https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/clinical-guidance/covid-19-planning-considerations-return-to-in-person-education-in-schools/

Most of you know that I was a pediatrician for 13+ years (resident for 3 years, practicing pediatrician for 10+ years). I worked in largely underserved communities. I have taught high school science for the past two years – and I am PROUD to be a teacher.

If you are a pediatrician, educator or someone that works with a school (an administrator or support staff), or a parent – please read the statement so you understand my remarks. As someone who has done one career and now does the other, I hope this qualifies my remarks. And as always, please form your own conclusions.

It’s a flawed statement. Very flawed – at least as anyone that is working in a school is concerned.

The good part – I 100% agree that the default should be in-class instruction in the fall. We HAVE to try. The AAP cites “social emotional” needs of children not being met during the spring in the pandemic, plus a host of other issues (food insecurity). Teachers and other staff that work in schools know this AS WELL, if not better, than the AAP. This falls under “low hanging fruit” and one of the few things that, as an educator, that the statement gets right. This ends the nice part. (Don’t worry, I don’t swear).

The AAP focuses (at least as I read it – again, PLEASE read it yourself) the rest of the statement on a justification on a reduction of distances and a host of other smaller issues – in a justification of why this needs to happen. My problem? Schools and the adults in them are advocates FOR CHILDREN and are integral in taking care of children. They are wholly discounted – what is needed to protect them – in the statement. “Needs of Staff” is given one paragraph buried at the bottom of the policy (I’m paraphrasing – “it will be a stressful year”, “use the employee assistance program” and other such phrases). I expected MUCH better out of the AAP, but since three years ago, my blog about addressing pediatrician burnout largely went unheeded – I was contacted by their office and was promised follow up with progress in six months – the follow up never came – perhaps it is I that should not be surprised.

I sent a letter to the CEO of the AAP and the past, current, and president-elect – both through the “contact us” portion of the AAP website and through each pediatrician’s individual portal. Now, it was Tuesday – but the AAP’s official response was “1-2 business days” – and I’m waiting. Their Facebook feed is filled with teacher’s expressing concern – and no one that is a social media person for the AAP has acknowledged this.

Here are my concerns:

-They state that “young children are low spreaders” and distances can be dropped to 3 feet (instead of 6) in some cases, and in older children, 3-6 feet might suffice. Any parent and teacher can tell you that if you draw a line to a child and tell them, “stay 6 feet away,” most will try to get as close as possible. Maybe 4 feet, maybe 5 feet. IT WAS NEVER GOING TO BE SIX FEET! Kids are kids. And, in our society, we are not rule followers – follow the news about our coronavirus problems, anyone? So, now that it is 3 feet, does anyone believe that children will adhere to a 3 foot bubble? Raise your hand if you do – and if you do raise your hand, I have property in Times Beach, MO I want to sell you.

-Cases are skyrocketing NOW. Coming out with this policy now is tone deaf. I don’t know too many educators that are looking at the current climate and going, “new record number of cases, but yeah, we’re good.”

-The reduced distances – while we are supposed to feel better about them – doesn’t make many teachers feel better, with justification. If you are a kindergarten teacher with a large class, let’s play “Simon Says” during coronavirus. “Simon Says take one big step towards your teacher.” Any of YOU want to play that game right now? I’m not so sure our elementary teacher friends should feel very loved right now.

-The AAP doesn’t recognize that if they are in an office with a child – their interaction can be at a distance for most of it (or virtual). The in hospital interactions are risky – but they have (now – not at the beginning of the pandemic) PPE for that. We are in rooms ALL DAY. There are few “at a distance” interactions in a classroom with a child – especially at lower levels (or heaven forbid I want to do a lab this fall….) They fail to recognize this duality

*-The policy needs to actively discourage STUDENTS AND STAFF from coming to work sick. No taking a dose of acetaminophen to tamp down a fever before work or school. That can’t happen. Not only do parents need to hear this and abide by this, but so do staff.

-The AAP SHOULD know that their own (physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, etc…) just had plenty of people working in hospitals DIE. Why? Lack of PPE when they were in close proximity to patients with coronavirus. Many districts have different financial resources right now. Some are flush with cash; some are getting by; some are in dire straits – and that was BEFORE coronavirus. Now those districts, those schools, have to afford PPE. There is nothing in the AAP’s statement STRESSING the need that the safety measures can be skimped upon in any way, shape, or form. Some can, some barely can, some will really struggle (and remember, many teachers buy their own supplies NOW, before coronavirus).

-But Dr. K, no one would do that? Hey – hospitals did that. Hospitals were re-using PPE and masks. It’s not like nurses were improvising protective equipment, no, no, no! And hospitals (most) have more money than schools. Most districts (I know mine is doing their absolute best – of this, I am sure and I’m not being snarky) will do their absolute best (despite all of this) to meet the PPE and sanitation needs of staff and children. But here’s a question: who pays for it? The district – what if that district is strapped for cash – what else gets cut that children might need? Salaries – gutting someone’s salary during a pandemic, that’s not great. The state – some states are really struggling. What about private schools – make the parents pay more in a pandemic? The federal government – I’m sorry, forgive me while I laugh for a second given the current political climate. Yeah, the feds will bail us out…. The AAP – it’s their statement, how about a little help? They SHOULD – this is their mess now.

-The more risks the adults in education (not just teachers, but teacher’s aides, principals, school nurses, I. T. support in schools, custodians, office staff – the list goes on so forgive me if I did not list you) take on to make this work – and while I won’t speak for everyone, are willing to take this on – it’s better for children, sign me up – more adults will get sick, and more adults will in fact die. Don’t kid yourself. So, AAP, what’s the acceptable collateral? What are the criteria, since you know what’s best for us, before we have to consider shutting down again? How many school staff are you willing to lose to pull this off? It’s not like there is a teacher shortage… And again, I fully believe most teachers WANT to do this (we didn’t like remote learning either and we, by nature are child advocates). So, if you think I’m being sensitive about the AAP’s wording and seeming lack of concern for any adult working in any school (that I’m now lumping in as an “educator”) – think again.

-Educators are notoriously underfunded as it is, yet we are in my view, the child advocate equals of a pediatrician. At a minimum, we have as much impact on the life of a child as a pediatrician. The AAP’s statement, by failing to recognize any of the above points, looks down on the adults working in schools. I don’t know if they consulted any educators – but they should have. And if the AAP worked with educators that didn’t catch these issues… well, then, wow.

The AAP’s statement needs to be revised. The language about schools reopening in the fall NEEDS to stay. However,

-There needs to be language on the importance of protecting ALL school staff and no corners should be cut. They need to acknowledge that schools and districts are under unusual pressure and that this will be extremely hard for some places (unfortunately, America isn’t close to equal here).

-They need to delineate HELP for schools and districts that might have a hard time getting the requisite PPE and cleaning supplies.

-They need to ACKNOWLEDGE that in order to pull this off, they are, by the very nature, putting school staff at some undetermined risk. It might be small, it might be large. This virus will likely change. I’m not asking for a parade; I don’t want to be called a “hero”, because I’m not. Just acknowledge this risk. It’s common courtesy.

-They need to state CLEARLY that this could change – especially when influenza and RSV hit (I didn’t even include that in my above list).

*The AAP needs to admit their own hubris, and amend the statement as soon as they can. I’m not hopeful. Maybe, in the future, if such a situation arises, they can internally commit to having some educators they go to for input. It is unwise to make a statement that has such profound effects on education without at least going to some educators with a, “hey, what do you think?” Even if you know that in your heart of hearts you won’t listen – collaborate. It isn’t hard.

If you agree with me – please write the AAP. Post on their Facebook page. I will not give you a template. List your concerns. They need to hear that, while well intended, their statement in the current form – like Lazarus, it stinketh (and I’m being nice). Here’s how to reach the AAP – be POLITE, but be firm.

https://www.aap.org/en-us/Pages/Contact.aspx?fbclid=IwAR3AYOzOlayoEnRMMd0Vpcu7Sbof27SE4ISKiUv0puPt1CHa0WAIf_Rpg9E

This current Covid / schools statement is rubbish. Again, I’m agreeing schools need to re-open. I’m disagreeing with their lack of concern for educators. Their verbiage is objectively lousy, and it needs to be said.

* = revisions as of 5:20 PM on 7/5/2020

Author: Jason Kesselring

I am a 42 year old high school chemistry teacher (and former pediatrician), happily married, and a father of two wonderful children. I'm occasionally active on Twitter; you can find me: @STLLenny and on Facebook (@trialofmilesjk)

2 thoughts on “School Re-entry, Coronavirus, and a Lousy Statement by the AAP”

  1. Thank you for this statement. I teach high school french. Most of my classes will have between 17-25 students. Some will have 30+. My husband has had a liver transplant and takes immunosuppressant meds just to stay alive. i think it is demanding far too much of educators to jump unprotected intomtge lion’s den. There are too many unknowns and variables about this COVID19 thing. Asking educators to live separately from family and loved ones in high risk categories is really asking more than the salary covers for sure.

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  2. Thank you for speaking up for the adults who educate, serve and support our children and youth. When I read the plan to return to school in the fall, I assumed there would be guidelines for PPE and other safely precautions to protect everyone. I was disappointed when educators, support staff and students were not given the same thoughtful consideration as when we reopened other places like restaurants, amusement parks etc. Thank you for so articulately expressing the anxiety and frustration of so many educators and parents.

    Like

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