This letter was received by the School Board from a Pediatrician and Emergency Physician. It is important for the public to know that my decisions regarding reopening schools are based on input from experts on the ground including parents, teachers, staff and physicians. These local physicians also garnered a petition of 8,000 people who signed to reopen our schools full time. Many of those who signed the petition were also physicians.
I'm a pediatrician married to an emergency medicine physician (who has a masters in public health)....We've seen the fallout of school closures in children, and after speaking to many of our colleagues in health care, we decided to write a petition from the perspective of healthcare workers who feel that the health and well being of CHILDREN is not being considered enough in the closures of school. While there is no doubt that COVID is deadly for certain populations, we are dismayed that children are suffering needlessly.
The petition is signed by thousands of pediatricians, physicians from all fields, social workers, nurses, counselors, speech therapists, teachers, and psychologists and psychiatrists, among others. Because so many parents wanted to sign it, we opened the petition to them and it now has nearly 8,000 signatures (growing by the day). (Most professionals did not add their credentials but I vouch for several hundred of them!) Please read it at https://www.change.org/openVAschools or see the attached signatures and comments PDFs with the petition copied below.
We realize at this point that schools plan to open somehow, but we implore you to open FULL TIME with as much normal activity as possible, while making efforts to protect teachers. Moving to Phase 3 by August is needed, and we MUST not take the joy out of school-- recess, sports, and activities should be preserved as much as possible as they are directly responsible for kids' mental and emotional development and well-being.
An "opt in to full time attendance" and "opt out for full remote learning" option makes the most scientific and practical sense for the following reasons:
1/ Hybrid models require parents to obtain childcare on 'off days.'
a/This WIDENS the circles of exposure to daycares/nannies/adult caregivers which is the opposite of what we want to do.
b/This is costly. Poor families struggle to afford childcare. Many kids will be home alone. Increasing the burden of finding care widens already existing inequities; some will have to quit jobs to stay home with children.
c/There is likely not enough childcare to allow for this, even if affordable. Childcare is already hard to find, so even those who can afford it will struggle. Grandparents or older people who have cared for children in the past are often unable to care for extended families' children anymore. (This is our situation, and reflects others as well: grandparents cannot care for kids of two working parents due to risk factors, and nannies are scarce.) We are all seeing many situations in which young children are receiving no supervision at all.
d/ Remote learning is NOT working for the vast majority of students, especially those with special needs AND is unfairly biased toward those who already have more resources to support ‘homeschooling’, widening already existing gaps.
2. Opt-out allows people who either DESIRE to homeschool or who MUST homeschool due to risk, to do so. Teachers who want to support remote learning due to their own health concerns can support the likely increase in families who choose to homeschool.
3. If busing is the issue, give the community the chance to re-envision this. Other states don’t use buses (eg California). Prioritize buses to be used by kids already identified (free-reduced lunch) and allow the community to rise to the challenge. Parents are used to networking and many would have to drive their kids to daycare if school wasn’t open.
Please recruit physicians like us who are seeing FIRSTHAND what kids are experiencing-- as well as school counselors and psychologists, who are busier than ever-- to participate in existing 'task forces' and support schools to open in a sensible way. We see superintendents and college presidents on your task forces but we need more people who are seeing what is happening to kids over the last few months. From anxiety to depression, to screen addiction, regression of speech apraxia or social skills, we are seeing kids suffer immeasurably, for no benefit to them or society as a whole.
Physicians on the ground want to participate in the decision-making processes. The CDC recommendations are somewhat nebulous and will be difficult to implement, and some should not be implemented at all in some places. We are a diverse Commonwealth. We want to help schools reopen and support the staff and teachers.