Dear Board Presidents,
On behalf of the 750 members of the Utah Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (UTAAP), we are reaching out regarding the reopening of schools in Utah. We applaud the Utah State Board of Education’s decision to extend the closure of schools in April to protect the health of children, families and communities in Utah. We are writing to offer our support and guidance during this unprecedented time, as your board faces the daunting task of providing guidelines to your school district serving thousands of students. As experts in children’s health and development, pediatricians can provide crucial insight into the rapidly changing recommendations for school openings, as well as guidance addressing children with special healthcare needs, children’s mental health and wellbeing, and overall support for child development. Therefore, in addition to the points below, we urge you to add pediatricians and a pediatric infectious diseases specialist to your reopening committee.
We strongly feel that schools should make every effort to open in the fall with appropriate steps to lessen risks for children, teachers and support staff. We agree with the Utah Department of Health COVID-19 Guidance for School Closures and Dismissal. Nevertheless, although COVID-19 is not yet well understood, we do know that it does not affect children as severely as adults, with children under 14 making up 5.1% of the cases in Utah and only 5.2% of cases for under 17 in the US. Those that are positive are less likely to be hospitalized (3.5% nationwide), or to die (46 child deaths reported in the US). Furthermore, current international research is trending towards suggesting that children are not the main spreaders of the disease and may not be as infectious as adults.
As you create reopening guidelines for schools, we urge you to base your plans on information from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) but also be flexible as research and recommendations continue to rapidly evolve and information is learned from schools opening outside the United States. AAP and CDC recommendations are developed to reflect the most updated research and draws upon the expertise a wide variety of child health specialists to ensure that the whole child is considered. We urge you to adjust plans as new research and guidance becomes available.
School reopening guidelines must be flexible in allowing for input from health departments and the community, to further develop road maps that meet your unique needs, within the boundaries of CDC and AAP guidelines.
Finally, when you consider contingency plans for a return to remote learning as COVID-19 rates increase again, we urge you to take into take into account child development, children with special needs and families with low parental education or English proficiency. Younger children, children with Individualized Education Plans (IEP) or 504 plans, and children whose parents are not able to help them with remote learning may not get the same benefit as other children and have a high risk of falling further behind. Schools should consider all possible ways to continue in-person for those families most in need.
We look forward to working with you to improve the health and wellbeing of children in Utah.
Paul Wirkus, MD, FAAP
American Academy of Pediatrics, Utah Chapter