Younger children in particular are ill-served by remote learning, according to a report issued by the American Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.
Wading into the contentious debate over reopening schools, an influential committee of scientists and educators on Wednesday recommended that, wherever possible, younger children and those with special needs should attend school in person.
Their report — issued by the prestigious American Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, which advises the nation on issues related to science — is less prescriptive for middle and high schools, but offered a framework for school districts to decide whether and how to open, with help from public health experts, families and teachers.
The committee emphasized common-sense precautions, such as hand-washing, physical distancing and minimizing group activities, including lunch and recess.
But the experts went further than guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other groups, also calling for surgical masks to be worn by all teachers and staff members during school hours, and for cloth face coverings to be worn by all students, including those in elementary school.
Regular symptom checks should be conducted, the committee said, and not just temperature checks. In the long term, schools will need upgrades to ventilation and air-filtration systems, and federal and state governments must fund these efforts, the report said.
Online learning is ineffective for most elementary-school children and special-needs children, the panel of scientists and educators concluded. To the extent possible, “it should be a priority for districts to reopen for in-person learning, especially for younger ages,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins and a member of the committee. Mary Kathryn Malone, a mother of three children, has been eager for schools to reopen in Mount Vernon, Ohio, where she lives. Her 9-year-old daughter is pining for her friends, and her 3-year-old has only part-time day care — and not while Dr. Malone works.
But she was most worried about her 7-year-old son, who needs help for his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. “At one point, we were three full weeks behind on schoolwork,” said Dr. Malone, who teaches French at Kenyon College. “I was working through my own job, and when I looked at this mountain accumulating, it was so stressful.”