Some experts, parents say benefits of in-person learning outweigh COVID-19 risk

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement saying, "Evidence shows the academic, mental and physical benefits of in-person learning outweigh the risks from the coronavirus."

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Saturday, August 8, 2020
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While Bay Area school districts insist that distance learning is the safest option, there's a growing conglomerate of parents, teachers, and pediatric experts who believe the pros of in-person learning, outweigh the cons.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- "We cannot open schools unless COVID-19 cases drop."

That's the call every school district is making to residents of the Bay Area. For the time being, students will return to distance learning, which is not optimal, but health officials say it's necessary under these conditions.

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Forcing kids to stay at home has become a wedge issue among some parents and teachers.

The debate over reopening Bay Area schools began the moment they closed last March.

Teachers expressed their concerns by stating that they would hate to bring coronavirus to the classroom and get students sick.

On the other hand, some parents were worried that more damage was being done to their children by staying at home.

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"There are children who have not schooled since March 16 and 17 who need to get back in front of the eyes of our teachers. We believe that it could safely be done," said Chelsea Schlunt, a Marin County parent.

School Districts and Health Departments like San Mateo County's Office of Education, Santa Clara County Public Health, even the California Department of Education came up with plans that would help guide teachers and staff when they physically returned to the classroom.

Parents were even asked to weigh in, spending time filling out long surveys. Most Oakland parents said they were fine with half-day in-school and half-day of distance learning.

"They need to touch each other, sit together and if they are not able to do that in school, then it's not kindergarten," added Dervala Hanley an Oakland parent.

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement saying, "Evidence shows the academic, mental and physical benefits of in-person learning outweigh the risks from the coronavirus."

INTERACTIVE MAP: Bay Area school districts share reopening plans

But concerns over the lack of personal protective equipment in schools began to worry many teachers.

One teacher even posted on Facebook, "'Much as I love my job, I am not interested in risking my life to babysit anyone's kids."

"I question, one, whether we will actually have the supplies which, they say they will, but are they taking into account that you might give a student a mask and they might need two more masks that same day?" asked Sayuri Sakamoto, a special education teacher in Oakland.

Dorothy Clark, a San Francisco mother of two, felt schools were not prepared to bring back children in a safe manner.

"Kids lose their masks, they will probably everyday. The distancing won't work. Cleaning their hands, maybe they'll do it, maybe they won't," said Clark.

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Karina Vela is a dance teacher at San Francisco Unified.

Returning in the fall meant teaching at five different schools.

"If I were asked to go back tomorrow I would be very afraid. I have a newborn and two kids. I have a grandparent that lives with me," Vela told us.

But over the 4th of July weekend, the outlook quickly worsened as cases spiked. It was inevitable that school districts would start the fall with remote learning.

School boards voted to go online and then Governor Gavin Newsom made it official: school districts that are on the California COVID-19 watch list would not be allowed to reopen in the fall.

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"When I Zoom with my 18 students there is only so much we can do, but at least they can see each other and I can put them in break-out rooms and they can chat with each other and have recess, but there's no substitute for being in school live with our students," said Mark Sanchez, who is the San Francisco School Board President. He teaches in Daly City.

Many teachers admit being nervous about the new technology and having to deliver daily live instruction. Some have yet to receive the proper training.

Olivia Udovic, an Oakland teacher, told ABC7 News Reporter Lyanne Melendez she now has so-called anxiety dreams.

"I have had them about, you know, showing up and I'm late and I thought that no kids would come and there's all these children and they're there and I don't know what to do, I haven't made a plan basically," said Udovic.

The non-profit, Go Public Schools, says Oakland parents were asked what online learning should look like.

"They want more regular communication with their teacher, they want more instructional minutes with their teacher and they want more small groups and one-to-one instruction in particular," said Thomas Maffai of Go Public Schools.

Take a look at all of ABC7's Building a Better Bay Area stories and videos here.