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Potential harms of delaying in-person schooling on children’s health

By Annie Keller

Published September 19, 2020

One of the many things that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has changed around the world is schooling.  Many schools have either opted to only conduct virtual classes or to allow students and their parents to choose a hybrid plan of online  and in-person schooling.  There are many considerations for children’s health that should be factored in to making a decision to reopen schools

One consideration for children’s health is nutrition.  Over 30 million children are currently eligible for free or reduced price meals at school, and because school meals cannot be delivered to a virtual student, those students are more at risk for hunger and nutrition-related issues compared to students attending in-person school.  A poll by the Brookings Institute showed that one in five households with children under the age of 12 reported food insecurity, i.e., children going without eating because the household could not afford enough food.

Another consideration is the potential for health issues during the school day. For any student who do not attend school in person, there are potential for healthcare problems during the day such as illness and injuries. Some families may not have insurance coverage ( an estimated 14%), so these kids only have the school nurse as a healthcare provider.  For students who are attending school in person, their ordinary health problems combined with the extra burden of COVID screenings may prove too much for the school nurse to handle.

Mental health concerns are another important part of the picture. Interactions between other children are for their mental and emotional health. Some children who have otherwise enjoyed school find less enjoyment with online learning, leading to  feelings of depression that some adults have experienced due to  social distancing measures. In England, where schools are slowly reopening under strict conditions, parents have said that re-opening schools can help with childrens’ feelings of isolation and mental health.

There are many more elements to children’s health and schooling than simply avoiding the spread of COVID-19.  Although the risk of infection may outweigh the other health risks, there is still a need to address children’s wellness in other ways.

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