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    By Nicholas Morgan                                         Follow East Palo Alto Today on
    East Palo Alto Today                                Facebook        Twitter         Blog              
    February 27, 2021                                    EPA Today Facebook page Follow epatoday on Twitter EPA Today Blog Icon




    Photo courtesy of pixaby.com



    As the United States continues looking for a way to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the first challenges is reopening schools nationwide.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines on February 12, 2021, for school districts on how to safely reopen their doors. More detailed than previous guidance during the Trump administration, the agency suggests that with proper mitigation tactics including social distancing, masking, and regular testing, schools can run even at the highest level of community spread.

    These guidelines however are only suggestions and not every school will find it easy to reopen given the concerns of parents and teachers.

    At a panel hosted by Ethnic Media Services on February 5, experts discussed how schools can go further and customize solutions for how best to go forward.

    Dr. Louis Freedburg, executive director at the nonprofit EdSource, said that one of the major problems, when it comes to reopening schools, is determining which school level to open first. Pointing to available scientific literature, Freedburg said that it may be easier to start with elementary school students over their older peers.

    “The research also shows that the risk of transmission in elementary schools is also very low,” said Freedburg, referencing studies that showed children’s immune systems did better at resisting COVID-19. However, Freedburg cautions that the challenge of sending older children back to school is complicated by the toll that distance learning and lockdown have placed on them.

    According to him, the stress of these changes, on top of the economic insecurity many families are contending with, has created a separate mental health crisis. This crisis has been a driver in some pushes to reopen, including a lawsuit from San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrera that cited increasing suicide rates among teens as a factor.

    Dr. Tyrone Howard, a professor in education and the director of the Black Male Institute at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), agreed with Dr. Freedburg that there will be no “one size fits all” approach that will solve the reopening question, but added that the particular problems faced by communities of color need to be addressed.

    Pointing to a report from UCLA, which showed that one in three adolescents, particularly women and people of color, suffered from psychological distress, Howard said that these problems are amplified further by a lack of resources to address these problems in schools. Noting the impact, he said, 
    “Part of the concern that I have is that as we reopen schools, many schools do not have the bandwidth and do not have the resources to invest in social workers, to invest in counselors, to invest in therapists.”

    Without this help, Howard warned that the psychological distress can result in behavioral changes, like increased stress or depression, that can have effects beyond the pandemic, including affecting a student’s academic performance. Because of this, he proposed that more support be provided to help make up for lost progress.
    “So I think when we do resume in person, we're going to have to really consider what intense academic enrichment programs are going to look like. We're going to have to really make a big push for mandatory summer school and what that may look like. We're going to have to make a big push for making sure that individualized tutoring is in place, especially for [the] most neediest students...”

    Often left out of these conversations are the concerns of Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander origin. Dr. Akil Vohra, executive director at Asian American Lead (AALead), said that the problems Howard and Freedburg identified were present in these communities as well, but they face discrimination, in particular during the pandemic.

    “Anti-Asian hate incidences have been on the rise since the pandemic began And this really puts the well being of our children at increased risk,” said Vohra.

    Because of the virus’ origin in Wuhan, China, Asian Americans have been wrongly blamed for spreading the virus. Disparaging language including from former President Donald Trump has intensified the mistreatment of Asian Americans across the nation. Vohra encourages schools to make an effort to assuage the concerns in these communities and that communicating these reassurances be an important part of their reopening.

    Even though schools have been cleared to re-open if they choose, that still does not clear up a main concern for parents and teachers which is whether its safe to send their children before school staff could get vaccinated. However, Bernita Bradley of the National Parent Union says that parents themselves are showing resistance to vaccinating their children even if they may want to return them to school.

    “Our surveys show that only 55% of our families said the parents said that they would get vaccinated, but more than 30% said they would do it at a latter date,” said Bradley.

    If this trend persists, Bradley suggests that schools prepare for this possibility that parents put off vaccinating their families.

    “Our schools need to need to really sit down and rethink how they teachers are going to teach for the next couple of years,” she said.


    This article by Nicholas Morgan was uploaded to the EPA Today website on
    March 5, 2021. Nicholas contributes articles and reports of special interest to East Palo Alto Today.