The Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MNAAP) strongly supports guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) regarding school re-entry for the 2020-2021 school year.
We believe all policy considerations for the coming school year should begin with a goal of having students physically present in school in a manner that does not worsen Minnesota’s pre-existing opportunity gaps. MNAAP encourages the state of Minnesota to continue working with the Minnesota Department of Health and school districts across the state to construct COVID-19 related safety plans that prioritize this goal.
Growing evidence shows that prolonged time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services can increase anxiety, depression, food insecurity, sedentary time, and abuse. Additionally, extended time away from school could exacerbate Minnesota’s glaring learning gaps, particularly among rural and under-resourced communities.
Schools should be supported in their efforts to make re-entry as safe as possible for students and staff. Although no single action or set of actions will completely eliminate the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, the implementation of several coordinated interventions can greatly reduce that risk. These include physical distancing measures, masks for older children, and rigorous cleaning measures.
We strongly urge lawmakers to provide additional funding for school districts to make the safety changes necessary for in-person learning. This funding should be provided in an equitable manner to all schools. Minnesota’s education system has long produced better outcomes and opportunities for white students than for students of color. Without equitable funding, the opportunity gaps our students face will widen further.
In addition, there will need to be discussions about how to protect those children with special health care needs, who may be at increased risk of becoming infected in a classroom setting. We also recognize the significant issues with providing online learning in some areas where broadband access may be limited or not existent. Again, access to in-person and online learning must be equitable.
School plans may require adjustments as COVID-19 incidence changes and as data continues to emerge. MNAAP encourages a response to COVID-19 cases of illness at the most targeted level possible, avoiding closing entire districts or regions unless warranted by local metrics.
The primary goal of pediatricians in Minnesota is the health, safety, and well-being of all children. Any approach to learning may need to be adjusted over time, preferably while engaging pediatricians in the process.