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A new report provides guidance on how schools can reopen as safely as possible but one of its authors thinks the US has ‘failed children.’

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  • The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released its guidance on reopening schools on Wednesday.
  • A committee member behind the report told NPR that the guidance comes after the US “failed children” by pulling them out of school without an appropriate plan and then scrambling to get them back in the classroom without one, either.
  • The 124-page report noted in-person classes for special needs students grades K-5 should be the most important priority for school district reopening plans.
  • It laid out a number of safety measures for schools to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, including providing masks, smaller class sizes, more teachers, and other safety measures. It noted necessary changes are expensive — and recommended more state and federal funding.
  • It urged schools to work with staff, families, and public health officials to develop plans that are individualized for communities.
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In-person classes are essential to the socialization and education of younger children — and that assessment intensifies for special needs children.

A new report from a prestigious advisory group underscores that.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which advises the US on a variety of science-related topics, released its back-to-school guidance on Wednesday. The 124-page guidance recommended, above all, that school districts should prioritize reopening schools for students grades K-5, and for students with special needs. 

Without proper instruction, the report stated, those students are the most vulnerable to falling significantly behind academically. Younger students are still “developing the skills to regulate their own behavior, emotions, and attention,” according to the report, and therefore cannot thrive with distance learning.

In an interview with NPR, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, one of the pediatricians and committee members behind the report said: “We failed children.” That failure, Christakis elaborated, was three-fold. First, that the country has done a “terrible job” of containing the pandemic, second, that schools closed in the spring with no remote learning infrastructure, and third, that planning for school reopenings didn’t happen quickly enough.

The report laid out multiple precautions for schools to take to make up for that failure, including: providing surgical masks for all staff,  limiting gatherings like assemblies or cafeteria lunches, staggering arrival and dismissal times, reorganizing classrooms to encourage social distancing, limiting class sizes and increasing the number of school staffers, and prioritizing ventilation and air filtration. The report also recommended that states and the federal governments provide additional funding to ensure these safety measures are met. 

The committee members behind the report predict funding hurdles — the cost of the recommended precautions totals roughly $1.8 million per school district with eight school buildings and 3,200 students.

The guidance urged schools and districts to work closely with staff, families, public health officials, and more to decide when deciding whether or not to reopen. “Many of the communities hardest hit by the virus are also home to schools with the least resources and the greatest challenges,” Enriqueta Bond, the chair of the committee behind the report, wrote in a statement. “Education leaders need to be careful when making the decision to reopen to not exacerbate these inequities.”

The report joins a growing list of back-to-school guidance reports full of warnings about the high risks involved, including those from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. It also comes as President Donald Trump continues to push for a widespread reopening of schools. Some districts, like California’s two largest, have already committed to an all-remote fall.

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