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Pediatrician Makes Case For Reopening Schools This Fall


Pediatricians across the country have spoken out in favor of bringing students back to school this fall even as coronavirus infection rates increase in most states, including among younger people. Dr. Sara Bode is a pediatrician and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health. She joins us now from Columbus, Ohio. Thanks very much for being with us.

SARA BODE: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Infection rates are rising. Officials all over the country are raising alarms. Why do you believe it's important to reopen schools?

BODE: So what we know is that for kids, school is not just an optional activity. It's really an essential service for them not only for their academics, but also for their social-emotional health, also for safety, nutrition, so many other things that they get through the school system. And so it's critical for us to find a way to support and get kids back.

SIMON: We've heard concerns about mental issues, too - depression, abuse. All of that are issues, too, aren't they?

BODE: Absolutely. Schools are often a place that kids not only get other eyes on them and diagnoses and reports of child abuse, but also some other adults that recognize those mental health problems. And many children get mental health therapy right in school as well.

SIMON: You're talking about guidelines - social distance guidelines. You're a pediatrician. Does that really work with 8-year-olds?

BODE: Well, you know, to some extent, it is more challenging with kids, absolutely, although I would say for adults, too, this is hard, right? We are a social society. But kids are remarkably adaptable. And if we're setting up structures where we're doing things that are promoting distance as much as we can but also adding in those other measures like frequent hand-washing, masks, cohorting kids together in smaller groups, there are multiple ways we can set things up to help lower that risk level.

SIMON: Dr. Bode, we know that Black, brown and low-income children are most harmed by school closures. And we know this at the same time that it's those very communities that are most hurt by the coronavirus. What kind of choice can families make? What advice do you give them?

BODE: Well, I think that's where we really as a society have to come up with what are the resources those communities need so we can get those kids back into school with those extra safety measures, because those are also often the school districts and communities where their resources are fairly scarce as far as building capacity and size, as far as staff allotment. So nobody thinks that we can do this without some additional help and resources. You know, this is laying sort of to bare our already stressed, you know, education system and the disparities that we saw pre-pandemic, and it's exacerbating those. So we really need to figure out, you know, from a funding perspective from the government or other resources, how are we going to be able to bolster up those school districts so that we are offering an equitable situation?

SIMON: Dr. Bode, forgive a personal question, but do you have school-aged children?

BODE: I do. So I have three kids at home. My oldest is starting high school this year, and then I have two middle schoolers who I can tell you are all anxious to get back. We have been weathering the distance learning, but it was a challenge. It was a challenge for me. I come from a family where we have - it's two working parents as well. So this is hard. It's a hard thing to navigate. And I'm concerned about my own children as well, and I certainly don't want them back in a situation that I don't feel is safe.

The other aspect is that every community is different. So the level of coronavirus and community spread is changing weekly. And so there may have to be plans and then other plans of what's going to happen if and when. And so we're asking a lot of school districts right now, and they're definitely going to need our continued support through all of this.

SIMON: Dr. Sara Bode is with the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health. Thanks so much for being with us.

BODE: Oh, you're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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