This Opinion article originally appeared in The Nevada Independent on September 8, 2021
The pandemic exacerbated the differences between the have and have nots. When Nevada schools closed in-person learning and moved students virtual, those with means had solutions that those without did not. They could hire private tutors. They could explore charter school options or private school options and transport their students wherever necessary, since these schools managed to remain open for in-person learning. They could opt for the distance learning our state widely adopted, since they could afford the space, devices, and internet access all children need to be successful.
Meanwhile, others were struggling just to get internet connectivity and put food on the table after their hours were reduced or they were laid off from their jobs. There has been an upsurge in enrolling children in distance learning and finding back-up options for our schools and education.
Students benefit from in-person learning, socialization, and connection. For more than a year, families have been on their own, doing the best that they can; however, we must constantly ask ourselves: how are the children? How are the students whose education was interrupted, who did not get to participate in normal childhood activities, who did not get to matriculate from elementary, middle or even high school in traditional fashion? How are students faring, socially, emotionally, developmentally?
The first year of the pandemic highlighted just how crucial the school setting is to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of our children and their families. Schools help promote equity and access to learning and health. As we transition our kids back into the school setting to resume in-person learning, it is imperative that we do everything possible to ensure our schools remain safely open as safe places for children to learn and develop, especially for our most underserved and vulnerable communities.
Parents and students are worried we are on the path to another shutdown. We must do everything possible to keep our schools safely open and to keep on accelerating the education of our children. Not only does their social and emotional health rely on it, but so does their future.
To ensure schools remain safely open and safe for all of our students, educators, administrators, and family members, we can follow a few suggestions:
First, we can get our kids up-to-date on routine vaccinations. The American Academy of Pediatrics and Georgetown University Center for Children and Families recently reported that children missed 11 million routine vaccination doses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we send our children back to school, it is important that we get them caught up on any missed vaccine doses so that we do not place them at higher risk of vaccine-preventable infections and outbreaks. If you are unsure about which vaccines your child needs for school or you need help paying for vaccines, talk to your pediatrician or contact Immunize Nevada at 775-624-7117.
Second, we can encourage our kids and our school staff to follow recommended safety guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published recommendations that everyone can follow to keep schools safely open. Wearing masks, distancing, cleaning/sanitizing, and regular testing will make the school environment as safe as possible for everyone.
Lastly, those of us who can get the COVID-19 vaccine should. Just this week, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as safe and effective for those aged 16 and older. Trustees of the Clark County School District (CCSD), the fifth largest school district in the country, just approved a vaccine mandate for all school employees. District officials report that 67% of CCSD employees have already submitted proof of vaccination. Many health experts believe vaccination is the best prevention strategy to end this pandemic. Vaccine eligible students and their families, educators, and school administrators should all seriously consider fully vaccinating themselves against COVID-19 to not only protect themselves and their loved ones, but also our community that needs stabilization as soon as possible.
It is vital that we work together to enable schools to remain open for in-person learning. This is critical for our children’s education as well as their social and emotional health. We can do that with the combination of vaccines, masks, and other strategies that we know can help make that environment safe for everyone.
Annette Dawson Owens is the School Readiness Policy Director for Children’s Advocacy Alliance and Kendall Lyons is the Director of Health Policy for Children’s Advocacy Alliance. Vanessa Slots, MD, FAAP is the President of the Nevada Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.