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Local pediatricians advocate for students to return to school, saying in-person learning is essential. 

The Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MIAAP) is calling for students to return to in-person classes this fall to help promote the overall health and well-being of children throughout Michigan. 

The group’s June 26 statement came just days before Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer released her “MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap” on June 30. The roadmap outlined a number of safety protocols for schools to create their own localized plan for reopening. 

The MIAAP is a nonprofit, professional organization of more than 1,400 Michigan pediatricians. 

Children, especially preschool and elementary-aged, are at lower risk of contracting COVID-19 and are less likely to be primary vectors for the spread of COVID-19, the MIAAP’s statement reads. 

Dr. Robert Blum Courtesy of Southfield Pediatrics

Dr. Robert Blum, a pediatrician at Southfield Pediatrics, agrees with the MIAAP’s statement and encourages school districts to allow students to go back to school in the fall, saying it is  what children need the most at the moment. 

“There are actually a lot of downsides to not having kids in school: socially, emotionally and for children with special needs, it is especially difficult,” Blum told the JN. “It is also difficult for kids who may have food insecurities and only get their food at school, or for kids who come from abusive homes. Schools are one of the only places they go to get a lot of services.” 

Although schools throughout Michigan transitioned to virtual learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, virtual learning is, according to the MIAAP, “non-comparable to in-person learning.” 

“A return to school is most essential for the youngest and most at-risk students. A virtual learning environment highlights existing inequities, leaving behind the most vulnerable,” their statement read. “In our discussions with parents in our pediatric offices, we have seen large discrepancies in available at-home learning support, which will assuredly increase the achievement gap. In particular, younger and special needs students rely heavily on having a constantly-available, skilled adult at home to scaffold their child’s virtual learning, and an appropriate person for this role rarely exists.” 

Blum agrees that not only is virtual learning stressful on students, it also impacts parents and their families. As parents begin to go back to work, they are forced to find alternative measures for their kids that schools would normally provide. 

The main question that Blum says everyone should remain focused on is, “How can we have kids back in the school in the safest possible way during this kind of infection?” As time goes by, doctors and researchers are learning more and more about coronavirus” so they can begin to form solutions to this crucial question. 

“Some ideas that have begun to circulate are to focus on physical distancing of the students by having the desks farther apart, having students stay at the same desk throughout the day and even circulating the teachers instead of the students so there are not is a lot of movement in and out of the classroom,” Blum said. “Lunchroom changes might also be implemented to avoid students being packed into a crowded lunchroom at one time.” 

The MIAAP encourages schools to continue to be flexible as more information becomes readily available and they look “to help prioritize in-person education for Michigan’s children this fall.” 

“Parents need to teach their children how to be safe during this current environment. You want to model that behavior for your kids,” Blum said. “If kids start seeing their parents take these safety precautions, they will be more inclined to do the same. Parents need to also know that schools will do everything possible to keep their children safe and to get them back in the classroom this fall.” 

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