COLORADO SPRINGS — The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of 67,000 pediatricians across the country, released guidance Tuesday that strongly encourages an in-person return to school this fall, despite the ongoing spread of the coronavirus.
The guidance, which covers a wide variety of topics from physical distancing in enclosed areas to face coverings to behavioral health and emotional support for children and teens and beyond, includes a strong advocation “that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
It’s something schools in El Paso County are watching closely. Several area school districts have enlisted the services of a consulting firm in order to create appropriate guidelines for safely reopening.
Christy McGee is the Director of Communications for the Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8.
“The value the DM Group brought to the table was just a national perspective and a connection to a lot of information and research at that national level,” she told FOX21 Digital NOW. “And when information like [the AAP guidance] comes out, we know they’re tracking it, which helps inform our plans locally.”
Part of the appeal of joining forces, Mcgee said, is that districts were able to share the cost of that service.
McGee said it helps them sort through research and new information, while still balancing the needs of families in the Pikes Peak region.
According to the AAP, “schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits.”
Regarding the threat of the coronavirus, the statement reads, “SARS-CoV-2 appears to behave differently in children and adolescents than other common respiratory viruses, such as influenza, on which much of the current guidance regarding school closures is based. Although children and adolescents play a major role in amplifying influenza outbreaks, to date, this does not appear to be the case with SARS-CoV-2.”
The group included further guidance on how schools should prepare to support students and staff both mentally and physically.
“We are monitoring it to see how it fits into what we’re already doing,” she said. “A couple of weeks ago, all of the El Paso County districts committed to El Paso County Health that we would open, five days a week for full days, for those students and families that are ready to come back.”
All the districts, she said, are continuing along that track, while still preparing for alternate scenarios, should those be necessary.
The guidelines released today, McGee said, do inform their planning and add to the information and research they’ve already acquired, “but it’s a piece of a larger part that also includes El Paso County Health orders and working with [that department], that’s really the nexus of the relationship… because they’re the local experts.”
Additionally, McGee said, Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 has always worked hard to be particularly mindful of students with special needs – a concern the AAP specifically highlight in its report.
About 18% of D8 students require special services, which is double the state average.
“That’s a big population that we definitely consider in planning for the reopening – and how we keep them safe, as well as their teachers,” she said.
In the meantime, many of those students are able to attend summer school through the district. McGee said that’s still happening this summer – with particularly high numbers, in fact.
And, for parents anxious for more information before classes resume in the fall, McGee stressed work is still happening at the district level. She hopes to have more information out to parents before August.
The Colorado Department of Education created a website that includes a comprehensive compilation of resources available to parents and school staff members.
As far as its plans for the 2020-21 school year, the CDE says it is focused on the areas outlined below:
“As the situation evolves, we will continue to gather feedback, add resources, and expand on these considerations to help you think through these complicated times,” the organization posted online.
The state tracks COVID-19 data, day by day, with information from each county.
For now, all area schools plan to reopen on time. McGee recommends checking in with your school district online to make absolutely sure.