In-Person or Online? Health Considerations to Guide Your Back-to-School Decisions

New Milford Hospital
With deadlines to choose between various educational options looming, asking the following questions can help you weigh your student’s options and protect your family’s well-being

By Dr. Diane Kantaros, Chief Quality Officer, Nuvance Health

Summary:

  • As schools release plans to reopen in the fall, many families are faced with a decision about whether to return to in-person instruction or pursue online educational options.
  • The in-person versus online decision should be based on the circumstances of each student and family.
  • To make the best possible decision, families should consider COVID-19 risk factors, the school’s plan, and their comfort level.

School districts and universities across the country are releasing educational and safety plans for the fall. Many students and parents are faced with a decision about whether to return to in-person instruction or pursue online educational options.

For many families, the decision about whether a student should return to the classroom is multifaceted and complex. Families have to factor in childcare, work, their health and the health of loved ones living outside their household who may help during the school year, like grandparents — all while prioritizing the need for their children to socialize with others and receive an education.

Here are health questions to help guide parents and students in making back-to-school decisions:

What is the school’s plan for reopening?

School districts and universities are releasing reopening plans that include in-person instruction, online classes, or some combination of both. Reopening plans may also include a COVID-19 response plan, safety measures, and new rules that students will be required to follow.

When it comes to the risks of COVID-19 transmission, research has shown that indoor settings are riskier than outdoor environments, congregating in large groups is riskier than gathering in small groups, and prolonged close contact with others is risker than brief contact. Many schools are taking steps to mitigate these risk factors so students can safely resume in-person instruction.

Here are questions to ask about your school’s plan:

  • Will students and staff be required to wear masks while in hallways, classrooms, and other congested areas? If no, this increases the risk of transmission at school.
  • Will students be able to remain six feet apart throughout the school day, including on the school bus, in the halls, during recess, and at lunch?
  • Will students and staff be required to comply with daily screenings?
  • What steps are being taken to reduce the number of students in the building or divide them into smaller groups?
  • Does the school’s plan follow local, state, and national health guidelines?
  • How does the school plan to respond if there’s a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19?
  • How does the school plan to promote hygiene, such as handwashing and limiting the use of shared items? For example, will hand sanitizers be readily available and required to use on entrance to buildings and classrooms?
  • How does the school plan to respond if COVID-19 cases increase in the community?
  • How does the school plan to perform contact tracing?

What are your personal and family risk factors?

Older adults and people who have certain health conditions — including lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, a weakened immune system, obesity, chronic kidney disease, or liver disease — are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill and experiencing COVID-19 complications.

When deciding if a student should return to the classroom, families should consider whether a student is at high risk for COVID-19 complications and whether they will be able to take appropriate steps to stay safe at school. Here are other questions to consider:

  • Will my student be able to comply with safety rules, such as wearing a mask, washing hands, and social distancing?
  • Will my student be able to quarantine at home if he or she becomes ill or is exposed to someone who has COVID-19?
  • Will my student be able to take steps at home to protect high-risk loved ones if he or she returns to school?

What is your comfort level?

In this pandemic world, all activities outside the home carry some level of risk for COVID-19 infection. You and your loved ones should discuss your comfort level with the risk of your student returning to the classroom. You should also discuss your comfort level with each of the available educational options. Questions to consider include:

  • Will the chosen educational option cause significant anxiety, stress, or hardship for my student and/or our family?
  • Will the chosen educational option be able to meet my student’s needs for safety, education, and socialization?
  • Am I comfortable with the school’s plan to reopen considering the COVID-19 infection rates in my community?
  • Am I comfortable with how the school plans to address cases of COVID-19 among students?
  • Do I trust my student to follow safety rules? Do I trust the school to enforce them?

The bottom line: The decision to return to in-person school or pursue online educational options should be based on the circumstances of each student and family. Families should consider COVID-19 risk factors, the school’s reopening plan, their comfort level, and which educational option will best meet the student’s needs for safety, education, and socialization.

Families should also keep in mind the newness of this virus. The medical community is still learning about the short- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on children and adults. Risk factors can help guide decisions, but they can’t always predict the severity of disease each person may develop if they get infected.

Dr. Diane Kantaros, Chief Quality Officer, Nuvance Health
Dr. Diane Kantaros, Chief Quality Officer, Nuvance Health

CONTACT
Amy Forni, Manager, Public Relations
(203) 739 7478 | Amy.Forni@nuvancehealth.org