How Safe Is It To Send Your Child to School This Fall?

First Day of School” by dangaken is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Many of Louisiana’s almost 800,000 children have begun heading back to school for the fall semester. Although some Orleans Parish parents would prefer to keep their kids learning from home, most really don’t have a choice. Unless a young person has a qualifying medical condition, all Orleans Parish public school students are required to attend school in-person this year.

With the highly transmissible Delta variant taking the country by storm, hundreds of youngsters are becoming infected with COVID-19 every day. In fact, the American Association of Pediatrics reports that the number of COVID-19 cases among children in Louisiana is growing faster than any other state. More than 4,000 Louisiana children between the ages of 5 and 17 contracted COVID-19 during July, 2021. 

“The Delta variant has created an extremely dangerous environment – threatening the lives of our children and vulnerable populations,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said on Twitter yesterday. Dr. Mark Kline from Children’s Hospital appeared on Good Morning America today to discuss several alarming trends and outlooks. Among the patients currently being treated at Children’s for COVID-19 is a seven-month-old baby. Ochsner is also reporting that 25% of children zero to 18 they are examining for COVID-19 are testing positive. Lingering physical, mental and neurological symptoms sometimes affect children diagnosed with COVID-19.

Children under the age of 12 cannot yet receive the shot, but trials are underway. Beginning in May, children over 12 became eligible, but too few have stepped up. The small percentage of Louisiana teens getting the inoculation mirrors the actions of Louisiana’s adults.  

While there are a few accredited virtual schools in Louisiana, openings for this semester are not plentiful. Home Schooling is another option but like virtual schools requires a parent or another adult to coordinate. With pandemic unemployment benefits ending, most parents have returned to the world of work and may not be at home during class time.

Only a few parents with means have the resources to hire a private teacher for personalized instruction on a daily basis. For the rest of the kids, in-person classes – and the growing chance to catch COVID-19 – is the only option. Private schools could well be the safest environment. School leaders are most likely to require vaccinations and mandatory masking from faculty, staff and students. Parochial schools could exercise that same power but are not pushing the limits at this time.

NOLA-PS’s all-charter system recently issued a new policy mandating masks inside buildings and to check the vaccination status for those requesting not to wear a mask indoors.   

What’s a parent to do, especially an elementary school parent? “Hope. Pray. Lead by example,” said one former principal. “Many of Louisiana’s children did not thrive in last year’s virtual classrooms. Test scores are down. Students’ mental health suffered. Most young people learn better in a living, breathing classroom. They also develop important socialization skills and benefit from group interactions,” she explained.

Children are safer in school when they and their parents have been vaccinated. 

Be a role model for your children- get vaccinated and get them vaccinated when the law allows. Kids are also safer when they really embrace the importance of mask-wearing. Even kindergartners can be taught how to wear a mask properly and why they should keep it on. Finally, encourage family, friends and co-workers to get the shot. It’s quick, easy and available throughout the city.  

As of August 8, only 37.6 % of Louisiana residents are fully vaccinated. Depending on the severity of yet unknown variants, Louisiana’s children and their families won’t truly be safe until those numbers double. Herd immunity – that’s the key to a successful 2022 Mardi Gras, March Madness Final Four and even JazzFest.  The sooner we get there, everyone will breathe easier – no pun intended.         

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