Put Alameda County Kids First: create reopening guidelines that prioritize schools

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The above photo is a photo of a real reopened classroom in Denmark and was taken from this article. Countries such as Denmark, Finland, Australia and Taiwan have reopened schools while keeping teachers and children safe.

Put Children First When Creating Reopening Guidelines

To our local and state leaders, we strongly ask you to come together to:

1 - Create guidelines that require and/or enable districts to reopen our elementary schools for full-time, in-person instruction this fall.  This includes providing funding and guidance to help schools acquire protective equipment and additional cleaning supplies.

2 - Communicate and raise awareness of the negative impact school closures have on young children and to say publicly that the best option for our children, and our collective goal, is for them to be in school, in person, full-time. The absence of recognizing the negative impact this is having on children is glaring.

3 - Learn from the other countries that have successfully reopened schools with no rise in cases:  we can learn from these countries and adopt their best practices.

As community members and parents of young children - we wanted to share our concerns with the current reopening strategy which appears to be placing the needs of children at the bottom of the reopening list (after, for example, reopening workplaces, restaurants, bars, etc).

Our concerns are as follows:

1. In Alameda County,  Dr. Erica Pan, the Interim Health Officer at the Alameda County Public Health Department, has become the de-facto decision maker determining whether our children attend school in the fall and this is not in the best interest of our children.  School districts are primarily looking to the County, State and CDC for determining how and whether to reopen the district in the fall.  While your offices may call it "guidance", our districts are not empowered to go against it -- and therefore, it becomes the decision. Dr. Pan seems to have become, whether she wanted this role or not, the primary decision maker in determining whether all children in Alameda County return to school in the fall. While she has a point of view to share, the people who should be empowered to make this decision are those who understand the need for in-person learning, and who advocate and care about the mental health, social-emotional and academic development of our children. We look to all of you to play that role. 

2. In determining what reopens - why are we prioritizing locales where the potential for transmission is high (restaurants, workplaces, etc) and not schools, in particular elementary schools, where the research suggests that transmission is low?  Recent research is showing that children under 10 are the least likely to get and transmit COVID-19.  Are we keeping children out of school in order to allow adults (those who are driving the most transmission currently) to go to bars and restaurants? It looks like it.  

If the assumption is that opening those businesses will help the economy - please know that (a) parents can't work if their kids aren't in school (b) parents can't shop or go to outdoor restaurants if their kids are not in school (have you tried taking a 5 year old to the market right now? It's not fun).

3.  The mental health impact of keeping children out of school is devastating. If you'd anonymously survey us parents today about the mental health of their children - each of us would tell you something very concerning.  Stories of depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideation are becoming common amongst elementary school aged children. 

4.  The assumption that parents can make a "hybrid model" or "distance learning model" work is unrealistic and privileged. We can attest that for a distance learning option to work, you must assume that (a) one of the parents does not need to work and can stay home with their kids (b) the stay-at-home parent is able to be a valid substitute teacher (with most likely no training or skills/vocation) or (c) families can afford to hire tutors to support and supplement academic needs.  Lawmakers come off unrealistic and privileged by not recognizing the financial and logistical burden of these models.  These models - hybrid and distance learning - also assume that being at home is the safest option for children.  With the increase in domestic violence, child abuse and neglect that is being reported during the pandemic - it should not be assumed that this is the best option.

Please take charge and be our children's best advocates by creating a reopening model that prioritizes for our young children to be back in school, in-person and full-time this fall.