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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, states have struggled with what to do when it comes to schools and online learning.
In the beginning of the pandemic when not as much was known about the virus, schools were shut down and students were sent home to do virtual learning.
But this brought up issues of internet accessibility for rural, low-income families, along with difficulties for parents who suddenly needed to work and provide childcare during the day.
As COVID-19 vaccinations have grown and cases are slowly decreasing, many administrators are figuring out what school will look like this fall.
“We have to be able to pivot,” said Kaweeda Adams, a superintendent in Albany, NY, according to the Washington Post.
Let’s take a look at how safe schools are, what Latino parents should know, and vaccinating your tweens and teens.
Is In-Person Learning Safe?
Studies have been mixed about how much COVID-19 spreads in schools.
When Texas schools returned to in-person learning last fall, COVID-19 cases grew substantially, according to a study by the University of Kentucky.
“The researchers said the additional cases they tracked after students began returning to schools represented 12% of the state’s total cases during the eight weeks after reopening and 17% of deaths,” said Marissa Martinez, according to the Texas Tribune.
However, studies in other states have found that in-person learning poses limited risks.
“Although COVID-19 can and does occur in school settings, the results of these analyses indicate that in Florida, 60% of COVID-19 cases in school-aged children were not school-related, <1% of registered students were identified as having school-related COVID-19, and <11% of K–12 schools reported outbreaks. These findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that COVID-19 transmission does not appear to be demonstrably more frequent in schools than in noneducational settings,” according to a CDC study.
An important aspect to note is that when these studies took place, the COVID-19 vaccines were not yet authorized or distributed to states.
While children younger than 12 are still not able to be vaccinated, teachers and school staff have been since early 2021.
“Nearly 80 percent of Pre-K-12 teachers, school staff, and childcare workers received at least their first shot of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, according to the CDC’s latest estimates and survey data,” according to a CDC press release.
In addition, most data show that children are at a low risk of getting infected with COVID-19. But it is not impossible.
“While fewer children have been sick with COVID-19 compared to adults, children can be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, can get sick from COVID-19, and can spread the virus that causes COVID-19 to others. Children, like adults, who have COVID-19 but have no symptoms (“asymptomatic”) can still spread the virus to others,” according to the CDC.
Consensus among medical professionals indicates that when the proper safety precautions are in place, schools can safely reopen.
Stay Closed or Open Up?
School administrators and public officials must take many factors into account when determining what school will look like in fall 2021.
One factor is what parents want.
A poll from Gallup conducted in February 2021 found that 79% of parents want their kids in K-12 to return to in-person learning.
Remote learning has been difficult for parents who have had to juggle working full-time with providing childcare for their children, particularly for those working in service jobs – like many Latino parents – who haven’t been able to work from home.
Remote learning has also brought up concerns about internet accessibility and learning loss.
“Rural communities often don’t have near the funds or the resources as your more urban communities,” says Debbie Bresett, the executive director of Bastrop County Cares, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of the county’s citizens, according to the Texas Observer. “I think the school districts are working as best they can to provide.”
However, many schools are hesitant to fully reopen as vaccination levels are not yet at herd immunity levels and new variants of COVID-19 may lead to another surge in cases.
“We can apply every ounce of reason and logic, but we’re at the mercy of what covid chooses to do and how our country and our region responds. So the best-laid plans will crumble underneath a surge,” said Grant Rivera, schools superintendent in Marietta, Ga, according to The Washington Post.
How are Latino Children Affected?
Latino parents may be concerned about learning loss for children after over a year of remote learning.
A report by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) found that while some students are improving, Latino and Black students are falling behind their white peers.
“While a majority of students did better than expected in reading — scoring at levels similar to typical nonpandemic years — this wasn’t true for Black and Hispanic students and those who attend high-poverty schools,” according to NBC News.
The trend highlights the growing disparities between children of color and their white peers, especially as Latino and Black people have been hit the hardest by COVID-19.
Many Latino parents also remain concerned about the safety of their children.
Latino children, who disproportionately experience medical conditions like diabetes and obesity, are at a high risk for severe COVID-19 infection.
“Latino children and young adults account for over 40% of the COVID-19 deaths among people ages 0-24,” according to the CDC.
Latino children are more likely to spread COVID-19 among families that live in multi-generational households or have family members working front line, high-risk service jobs.
Vaccinating teenagers can make a big impact in preventing the spread of COVID-19 among Latino communities, which have felt a huge burden from the virus over the last year.
Now, children ages 12 to 15 can get vaccinated.
On May 10, 2021, the FDA authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use for children ages 12 to 15. It had previously been approved for those ages 16 and older.
To read more about the vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, click here.
How Can We Learn More?
Want to learn more about COVID-19 and help prevent the spread in your community?
Make sure you know misinformation when you see it and can help educate others about the facts on COVID-19.
If you or anyone you know is still hesitant about getting vaccinated, read these stories from real Latinos who had a #VaccineChangeofHeart and decided to get the vaccine after initially being against it.
You can also check out the “Juntos, We Can Stop COVID-19” digital communication campaign from Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio. This campaign was made to help Latino families and workers take action to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The #JuntosStopCovid campaign features culturally relevant fact sheets, infographics, and video role model stories to encourage Latinos to change their public health behaviors.
Share the campaign with your friends, family, and colleagues!