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dangerous

Poll reveals half of parents unconvinced that school is safe for their children’s return

Michael Savage | Sun 24 May 2020 02.41 EDT

Teachers’ union leader warns situation ‘untenable’ as health officials say track and trace system has been left too late

An empty playground at Milton St. John’s Primary School in Mossley, Greater Manchester.
 An empty playground at Milton St. John’s Primary School in Mossley, Greater Manchester. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

Parents are divided over the prospect of sending their children back to school, a new poll has revealed, as parent groups warned that mixed messages and poor communication had caused widespread anxiety about returning.

With school leaders still grappling with the practicalities of reopening primary schools for some year groups in just a week’s time in England, an Opinium poll for the Observer found that 43 per cent of primary school parents and 54 per cent of secondary school parents feel anxious about the prospects of returning.

Primary schools have been instructed to prepare to bring back reception, year 1 and year 6 classes, as well as their early years provision. However, councils of all political colours have suggested they will not follow the advice, while Welsh and Scottish schools will wait to reopen.

There are now also concerns that the return of pupils has become such a chaotic issue that it could worsen the attainment gap between affluent and poor areas and families. Some teaching unions have suggested the families of vulnerable children have been more reluctant to see them return to school. David Laws, the former education minister who now oversees the Education Policy Institute, said that a widening divide was a “significant risk”

John Jolly, chief executive of the parent group Parentkind, said there was confusion about the reopening of schools. “Parents are looking for certainty,” he said. “Some want the certainty of saying schools are safe and we’re going back. Some want the certainty of keeping children out of school until there is a vaccine, which may reflect families with underlying conditions. Then you have other parents that want a clear timeline.

“Parents are not convinced about messages around schools being safe. They are not sure about that message from the government, or that the evidence for that is being communicated. There is a lot of uncertainty about the message being communicated by schools locally.”

Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, warned the situation on the ground was now “chaotic and increasingly untenable”. “Not only are school leaders having to think about how to reopen schools, but how they convince parents that their children should go back, and organise the school site. Then they don’t know how many staff they will have. Schools are vital for society. But they have to be safe.”Advertisement

However, professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said schools should be allowed to reopen. “Covid-19 generally barely affects children and young people and actually we’ve shown that they are about half as susceptible,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “There is no doubt in my mind for children themselves, the balances are clearly in favour of going back to school.” He said the risks to family and the community could be managed with an effective track and trace system and a phased return.

While a working track and trace system is seen as necessary for rules around schools and other parts of the lockdown to be loosened, several local government sources warned that councils were now facing a race against time. There have been complaints that local public health officials have been sidelined during the pandemic, despite their expertise. They are now being drafted in as part of several pilots of the track and trace system, but insiders warn they now face huge time pressures.

Professor Donna Hall, head of the New Local Government Network, said: “At the beginning of March, public health directors were quite rapidly cut out of the national pandemic response. They are there for all aspects of public health, working on things like HIV, hepatitis, pandemic flu. Disease control is their job. They are highly skilled … but they’ve been cut out in quite a strange way.

“Other countries have deployed local resilience forums for testing and tracing. A national contact centre is never going to get to the granular detail you need for contact tracing. I’ve been out with the people who do it – they are forensic. You won’t get that through an app. It is people on the ground, observing how a disease spreads. It could be from a petrol pump or a salt shaker. That’s the kind of detail needed.

“They may be piloting things, but we’ve left it really late for that. Not giving local government a big role is foolish and dangerous.”

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Keep up with children’s health during pandemic. Especially now, pediatricians can help.

With schools closed, a doctor may now be the only person outside a household with eyes on a child. Don’t skip well-child appointments and vaccines.

Dr. Sara “Sally” Goza and Dr. Patrice HarrisOpinion Contributors

COVID-19 has drastically changed how we live our lives and brought much of the world to a standstill. It’s a scary time for parents who worry about becoming ill or caring for loved ones who have contracted the virus, as well as for the many Americans whose ability to support their families is becoming uncertain. With all of the turmoil, it’s easy to forget how this is affecting our children. 

Thankfully, for the most part, children seem to be spared from the most extreme and dangerous effects of the coronavirus. But they are still feeling the pain of the pandemic in a big way, from the preschooler who doesn’t understand why she can’t hug her grandparents or see her teachers to the teen whose big life moments like graduation and final year-end competitions have suddenly been snatched away. The toll and timeline for these impacts is unknown. 

Don’t skip well-child check-ups

The disruption in routine can also lead to behavior changes. For younger children, that can mean less sleep, more tantrums, and bed-wetting. For older children, it can manifest in feelings of sadness, anxiety, and hopelessness. With studies showing the mental health of U.S. teens and young adults dramatically declining over the past decade, it’s important that we continue to check in with our children to talk about how they’re doing and what they’re experiencing.

With children and adolescents now home from child care and schools, the only person outside the household who has eyes on them may be their doctor. That is why well-child visits must continue for all children and youth, even in areas where the visit must be done through telemedicine. 

Outside a hospital in New York City on April 23, 2020.

Well-child visits are where we examine children, discuss concerns with families and talk to adolescents about mental health, sexuality, and high-risk behaviors like vaping and drugs. Pediatricians are trained to screen for signs of distress of all kinds during these visits, from expected stress to serious family distress and even suicidal thoughts.

Especially during such an uncertain and stressful time for children, we use these visits to check in on their mental health, too.

These exams are so important to keep kids on track, which is why we urge parents everywhere to first reach out to your child’s pediatrician. Come for your scheduled appointments, in person, by phone, or on a computer. Call us when your child has an ear infection or trouble breathing, or may have broken a bone or need stitches. Call when you have a mental health concern or notice a change in your child’s behavior.

Keep up with vaccines

And, perhaps most important, make sure your child continues to get vaccines on time. Despite the very real concerns of COVID-19, it’s especially important for children to continue to receive the essential health services their scheduled well-visits provide. Disrupting immunization schedules, even for brief periods, can lead to outbreaks of infections like measles or whooping cough that can be even more threatening to a child’s health. 

Balancing the health care needs of our young patients with the need to practice physical distancing requires a watchful eye, a measured approach, and teamwork between parent and pediatrician. We will continue our work to protect all children, especially those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of coronavirus — those on Medicaid with complex health care needs and from low-income families, and children from under-resourced and minority communities, particularly African Americans, who are experiencing a disproportionate burden of illness and fatalities.

Pediatricians’ message to parents is clear: We are open for business, and we are here for you and your children now more than ever. While federal and state government officials work to ensure our health care system can continue to function throughout the pandemic, we urge them to recognize and support the doctors at its epicenter.

At a moment when our nation’s eyes are on the spread of the virus, our eyes are on the children.

Dr. Sara “Sally” Goza is president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Patrice Harris is president of the American Medical Association. Follow them on Twitter: @SallyGoza and @PatirceHarrisMD

Have a story you want to share ? Feel free to email me @ throughlovewelearn@gmail.com .

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