CA public schools could reopen in 4 months if bill passes, but is it safe? Doctors weigh in

ByLuz Pena KGO logo
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Is it safe for children to return to school? Doctors weigh in
"We've learned that schools are safer than we thought, and we learned that the consequences of keeping them closed are worse than what we thought."

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting proposed legislation on Monday that would require California public schools to reopen "in most cases during the pandemic" when case counts go down. But is it safe?

"Schools are safer than we had feared particularly with young kids ages 5-12. They don't carry the virus as much. They don't spread it as much," said UCSF's Chair of Medicine Dr. Robert Wachter.

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Dr. Wachter says the data is clear, "We've learned that schools are safer than we thought, and we learned that the consequences of keeping them closed are worse than what we thought."

For months seven-year-old Ben Kliban has been learning in front of a computer screen. He says every day is getting harder.

"It's really hard for me to understand some of the stuff. So things like tests," said Ben.

His mom, Sarah Kliban is not only worried about his academics but his mental health.

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"I've noticed an increase sense of frustration. My son doesn't get to watch other kids having problems because it's all hidden because they are all in their zoom worlds," said Kliban.

Jennifer Sey is a mom of four who also wants her children to go back to school.

"I have a high school senior who has missed every major milestone and I have a kindergarten who's never seen the inside of a classroom," said Sey.

Dr. Bardach says the main concern is staff members.

"The highest risk group are actually the adults, staff to staff is where the transmission has been seen the most even that hasn't been very frequent but it is more common than in kids," said Dr. Naomi Bardach, Pediatrics at UCSF Children's Hospital.

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Dr. Bardach recommends frequent testing.

"Testing for children in schools is one of the layers that is going to be part of how we stay safe. There are other multiple other layers that are extremely important: masking, physical distancing, small cohorts, good ventilation, hand hygiene and symptom screening and testing," said Dr. Bardach.

In San Mateo County, the Board President of the Jefferson Union High School District is not comfortable with the idea of reopening schools so soon.

"Health officials have told us this is the safe way to do school, to have students in small pods that kind of are in groups and they stick together. We don't have the staff to do that and we don't have the space," said Kalimah Salahuddin, Board President of the Jefferson Union High School District.

The legislation allows districts to choose between two models: an all in-person learning model or a hybrid option of distance learning and in-person classes.

In a press release, Assemblyman Ting explained: "Under AB10, starting March 1, 2021, schools allowed to open under state and county health orders (those in the Red, Orange, or Yellow tiers) must implement a plan to do so within two weeks, setting a clear threshold for when in-person instruction resumes. Local districts can still decide for themselves which in-person model best fits their student and workforce needs, including a hybrid format of both in-person and distance learning."

If approved the bill would go into effect on March 1.

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