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Back-to-School from Pediatrician and Parent, Jonathan Nasser, MD’s Point of View


Suddenly it is August and back to school preparation is upon us. In the old times, prior to 2020, children and parents prepared for the excitement and possibilities of the new school year while soaking up a few more weeks of summer fun. This year, COVID-19 brings a new set of emotions – worry, fear and uncertainty. Like many of you, I am worried about the logistics of school reopening for my patients and rising 10th and 12th graders at home.  There are still many unknowns about the danger, infectivity, and prevalence of COVID-19 in children.

Here is my best advice to parents about the upcoming school year.

  1. In person learning is better for kids.  Our children thrive on the combination of direct teaching and socialization. We would all like to see children learning in person again. However, there are some scenarios where this is not a good option. Children and families who are high risk for complications from COVID-19 should take advantage of distance learning. Pediatricians are a good resource for families who are facing this decision.
  2. The school safety plans will reduce, but not eliminate the risk of transmission in schools.   We are fortunate to have a low COVID prevalence at this time and attempting to go back to school in person is reasonable. Masks and social distancing do work. Health screening questions and temperature checks add an additional layer of protection. Hybrid models that reduce the number of children in school facilitate the implementation of these plans.
  3. Keeping schools open requires a social contract between all of us. Parents and children have a responsibility to contribute to the safety plan.   COVID-19 can be mild in children, mimicking allergies and cold symptoms.  It is no longer admirable to tough it out at school; if your child isn’t feeling well – don’t send them. Your pediatrician can help determine the need for COVID-19 testing.   Take advantage of distance learning if your child needs to stay home. Continue to act responsibly in daily life – keeping the prevalence low in the community will help schools stay open. Wear your mask, social distance and wash your hands frequently.
  4. It is important for parents to project optimism about learning.  Let’s face it – distance learning in the spring was not successful. No one was prepared. It will be better this fall, especially combined with in person learning. Our children want to be excited about the new school year and they need us on their side. Celebrate the first day of school. Acknowledge your child’s adaptability and effort. Thank teachers. Breathe deeply.
  5. Prepare for successful distance learning.  Most children will have at least a few days a week of learning from home. Give them the best opportunity to be successful. Maintain a daily routine - wake time, meals, and bedtime. Having the same schedule at school and home will help keep them focused.  Create a place for learning at home that limits distractions.  Continue to set limits on screen time and encourage regular exercise. Consider a daily planner that helps children visualize and prepare for each day.
  6. No one has all of the answers!  There are still many unknowns about COVID-19. We are all learning and adapting every day. The start of school is the next step in our path forward. It is important to acknowledge how far we’ve come and to continue the hard work of flexibility, safety, and resilience. Your pediatrician is a trusted advisor who can help during this difficult time. Don’t forget to take those first day of school pictures!

This back-to-school year looks a lot different than last year, but it can still be as fulfilling! With hard work and a combined community effort, we can keep our schools safe for our children, teachers, and parents. Please reach out to your pediatrician with any questions or concerns and don’t forget to bring your child in for an annual physical.

Jonathan Nasser, MD, is an Internist and Pediatrician and the Chief Clinical Transformation Officer at Crystal Run Healthcare. He earned his Medical Degree at University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA and is Board-Certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. Dr. Nasser is seeing patients in Middletown.