Pediatricians say kids should be in school despite coronavirus risk

Cerritos Elementary School in Glendale
Los Angeles County Office of Education Supt. Debra Duardo, left, and Glendale Unified Supt. Vivian Ekchian, right, are given a tour of Cerritos Elementary in Glendale by Principal Perla Chavez-Fritz on May 26.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The damage done by keeping children out of school might outweigh the risks of COVID-19 transmission, a regional organization of pediatricians said Tuesday, pushing back against educators who have cautioned against reopening campuses too soon.

The Southern California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents about 1,500 doctors, issued a statement pointing to research suggesting that the risks of COVID-19 transmission among children are lower than for adults, but that keeping children away from in-person instruction for longer will have negative consequences.

“Prolonging a meaningful return to in-person education would result in hundreds of thousands of children in Los Angeles County being at risk for worsening academic, developmental and health outcomes,” the statement said. “Children rely on schools for multiple needs, including but not limited to education, nutrition, physical activity, socialization, and mental health. Special populations of students receive services for disabilities and other conditions that are virtually impossible to deliver online.”


While they acknowledged the county is too big for a single reopening plan, the doctors also took issue with some of the L.A. County Office of Education guidance issued last week about safely returning to schools. While the 45-page framework left many decisions up to schools, it recommended measures including face masks for students and teachers, children eating lunch at their desks and greater use of outdoor areas for teaching.

“Our concern is that recently issued guidelines for schools re-opening in Los Angeles County are not realistic or even developmentally appropriate for children,” Dr. Alice Kuo, president of the pediatrics chapter, said in the statement. “For example, wearing masks throughout the day can hinder language and socio-emotional development, particularly for younger children.”

L.A. Unified Supt. Austin Beutner said in an address Wednesday morning that returning to school in any capacity will be risky without treatment or a vaccine — for children, vulnerable family members and school employees who could be infected.

“If someone were to become ill and the source of the virus was traced to a school, who is going to pay the health bills?” he asked.

Beutner reiterated his call for city authorities to plan for testing and contact tracing of the virus if it hits schools, and criticized the state and local governments for not reimbursing LAUSD for feeding adults during the shutdown.

“This is complicated work and we take it very seriously — lives and futures are at stake. Returning to school facilities will need to balance three sometimes competing priorities — the health and safety of all in the school community, the impact of the pandemic on jobs and families and the educational needs of students,” Beutner said.

The school district is considering options but has not made a decision on what campuses or instruction will look like in the nation’s second-largest school district when the new school year begins on Aug. 18, Beutner said.