In-person versus virtual school: Pediatricians help parents navigate learning during COVID

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – With the pandemic parents have had to weigh the benefits and risks of sending kids back to the classroom. With each decision: in-person, virtual, or a hybrid plan, comes its own consequences good and bad.

Today, Oct. 27, high school students in the Lindbergh and Mehlville School District started in-person instruction two days a week. Today also marked when middle schoolers returned to in-person learning in the Parkway District.

November 10 is when high schoolers in Parkway will return and Kirkwood just announced today high schoolers will head back on November 9.

With more students heading back-to-class, FOX2 reached out to a few school districts and found that roughly 20%-30% of their students have still chosen to do all virtual learning.

Parents and pediatricians have been helping navigate the hazy waters. Dr. Marya Strand, Chief Medical Officer at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, explains there are a lot of unknowns.

“We continue to learn a lot about COVID-19 through these last months,” explains Dr. Strand. “It’s been a little bit unusual that this is an infectious disease that doesn’t target the very young. The kids seem to be a little bit protected from the more severe disease.”

The reduced risks and lower transmission among children have led to more school districts returning to in-person class.

Doctors say science backs that move. Initial reports and data show most kids carrying the disease are asymptomatic. Children can still spread the disease, but it appears to spread less efficiently.

“I think it’s a really hard call and I know each individual school system is struggling with that decision right now,” explains Dr. Strand. “Some kids are still doing virtual learning, some kids have been back in school for weeks, others are doing a hybrid model. I don’t think there is a one size fits all answer to this.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates that in-person learning is the most effective form of learning, but also stresses the importance to be mindful of the burden of disease.

With all risks and benefits in mind, a group of 150 St. Louis metro area pediatricians have come together in a letter supporting kids of all ages going back to the classroom. One of the organizers of this group, Dr. Kristin Stahl spoke with FOX2Now.

“What we pediatricians have been seeing for the past 4 months is the increase in other problems like depression in adolescents, like obesity, like child abuse,” Dr. Stahl explains. “Increased high-risk activities in adolescent behavior, and hunger, so there’s a lot of comorbidities that come with restricting school for kids.”

Here is part of the letter Dr. Stahl and her colleagues signed.

“School is the essential business of childhood. Teachers are essential workers. In-person school is the most important act we can take to protect the health, safety, and social-emotional well-being of our children. Please join us in working together for the benefit of the youngest members of our society. “

Letter from St. Louis area pediatricians

Dr. Stahl says it’s very unusual that so many doctors agree. “This struck a chord with us. We know we can keep our own offices safe, we learned how to do it starting in March, those same techniques can be used in schools to keep children safe,” said Dr. Stahl.

Dr. Strand agrees there could be risks to your child’s behavioral and mental health if you chose to keep them home.

“We are still at the early stages of this. It’s only been only a couple months of staying home and trying to do virtual learning, but I think that the risks of those long term consequences are real,” Dr. Strand explains.

Dr. Art McCoy, superintendent of the Jennings School District can back the importance of in-person learning. The district started in-person class with summer school in July.

He says so far there have been zero cases of COVID among students. There have been 7 cases among staff with only one of those contracted at school. McCoy says 125 of the staff have even become contract tracers. The district also has rapid testing with results within 3 hours.

“The parents think that this pandemic is not as bad as many of the epidemics they face. Epidemics of no house, no employment, safety issues in the community in general. They are thankful that the kids can come to a place where they are safe and cared for. They are 100% on board and they have a choice,” explained McCoy.

McCoy says when school started on time in August 40% of the students were in-person at least part time. Now he says 75% are back in person now and with a rotating schedule it’s about 40% school occupancy each day.

FOX 2 has broken down the attendance numbers of local school districts:

Jennings School District: 75% attending in-person/ 25% attending virtually

Francis Howell School District: 75% attending in-person /25% attending virtually

Lindbergh School District: 70% attending in-person / 30% attending virtually

Parkway Schools District: 68.7% attending in-person/ 31.3% attending virtually

Mehlville School District: 80% attending in-person/ 20% attending virtually

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