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The risks and benefits of returning to the classroom

As a new school year approaches, there’s plenty of room for debate about reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.

As fall approaches, school districts across the country are making decisions about what returning to the classroom will look like. Parents, educators, and lawmakers are weighing the benefits of having students sit in classrooms with the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, a poll from the National Parents Union found that 67% of parents supported “continued closures until officials are certain that reopening will not pose a health risk.”

Despite daily records for new COVID-19 cases, many states have rolled out plans for reopening schools this fall. 

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Parents were thrown into helping more with their children’s educations in the spring, but they will need to be partners to teachers going forward.

New rules from the Missouri State Board of Education establish how districts can operate on a hybrid attendance model and still receive state funding.

Other states, such as Texas, have ruled that online learning will count as attendance, for the purposes of both course credit and school funding. Texas, however, will require that schools offer in-person instruction unless there has been a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the school. An emergency order in Florida goes a step further and requires that schools be open five days a week for all students who choose to attend.

In Florida’s emergency order, education commissioner Richard Corcoran said, “Schools provide many services to students that are critical to the well-being of students and families, such as nutrition, socialization, counseling, and extra-curricular activities,” and emphasized the economic need for parents to be able to return to work.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement in favor of reopening schools for in-person instruction, saying that schools are “fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being.” The statement also said that maintaining a six-foot distance between students should not be prioritized in elementary schools if it would limit the number of children in the classroom.

While children appear to be at lower risk of contracting and transmitting the virus, teachers are at risk, especially those who are older or medically compromised. The Washington Post reports that teachers are not confident in schools’ ability to implement plans for social distancing, sanitization and wearing masks.

A poll from USA Today said one in five teachers say they are unlikely to go back to school if their classrooms reopen in the fall. With the already present teacher shortage, this could leave many schools struggling to keep qualified teachers in the classroom.