Hudson County parents have a deadline looming for a big decision: whether to send their kids to school for in-person learning.
Hoboken parents have been asked to submit their decisions by Friday and other local districts have said families will soon also have the option to elect fully remote learning.
Many districts reopening plans offer hybrid models of learning, in which cohorts of students will alternate between remote and in-person lessons. Some will have the option of full-time, in-person schooling.
The coronavirus local trajectory is always in flux, so making a decision a month out may feel like a bit of a gamble.
But health experts say the risk level of a child returning to school depends on a variety of factors, particularly the individual school districts plan and the status of the virus in the locality.
Parents need to be cognizant of that nothing is going to be zero risk, and certainly the more virus thats in the community the more likelihood that their child will be exposed and could become infected, said Dr. David Cennimo, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark.
When looking at a school districts policies, one of the most important parts to study is what the plan is for when an infection is discovered, Cennimo said.
Its just such an eventuality that it cant be a surprise or a panic when it actually happens, he said.
Districts must have an acute plan for how to track and contain the virus spread within their buildings, a new study in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health concluded using data from the United Kingdom.
If there is not widespread testing in schools and society continues to ease lockdown measures, a second wave of the virus is likely this winter, the study suggests.
Hobokens contact tracing will be a collaboration between the school nurse, administration and the citys contact tracing team, according to its restart and recovery plan. If 5% of a schools population tests positive for coronavirus at any given time it will close for 14 days and operate remotely during that time.
Beyond contact tracing, other crucial policies for parents to review include mask use and student cohort procedures, Cennimo said. Districts are gradually making their reopening plans available online.
There is not a consensus on how low the coronavirus transmission rate should be for schools to reopen, but New Jerseys current status should be met with caution, Dr. Lawrence Kleinman of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University, said in an interview with NJ Spotlight.
In recent weeks, as New Jersey loosened restrictions and other states experienced surges, the rate of transmission here increased. That figure represents the average number of people each infectious person is spreading the virus to, a key measurement officials have used to understand whether coronavirus is gaining or losing speed in a particular area.
With a transmission rate higher than one its currently 1.32 in New Jersey Kleinman believes students shouldnt be in school, he said. Even if it was closer to one that wouldnt signal all was dandy.
To crush the curve is to have the transmission rate close to zero, not just lower than one, he told NJ Spotlight.
Major health organizations and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have said children, particularly elementary students, should return to school if essential protocols are followed. Those include the use of face masks, physical distancing and sanitization.
Scientific understanding of how the virus spreads and how susceptible children are to contracting it remains inconclusive.
In a much-reported study, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine acknowledged that much, but concluded that young children are among those most at risk from stunted learning if they are not physically in school. It recommended that school attendance be considered more of a priority for students in grades K-5, as well as students with special needs.
The risks of not having face-to-face learning are especially high for young children, who may suffer long-term consequences academically if they fall behind in the early grades, it said.
Each familys footing is different, and for some, homeschooling will be hardly feasible, Cennimo of Rutgers Newark said. Still, a second wave of the virus could be in the cards for New Jersey, and not even having the option to go into school may once again be a reality every family faces, he said.
Unfortunately, even if you choose to send your kid to school now, which might be a really good idea for your family situation now ... come November the schools might be closed again regardless of what we want, he said. I dont know if people are thinking of it that way.
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