OP-ED – Returning to In-Person Instruction Children and Teachers Should be Back in Classrooms this Fall

By Sarah L. Rudman, MD, MPH and Mary Ann Dewan, PhD
Photo Credit: Getty Images

For more than a year and a half, children throughout the Bay Area have missed out on in-person instruction from their teachers and the many benefits of in-person schooling.

While this distressing disruption in children’s lives may have been necessary earlier in the pandemic, it is now time to get children of all grade levels back into their classrooms. This fall, we must bring students back to their teachers, their coaches, and their friends.

The latest science proves that in-person instruction is not only safe, it’s the right thing to do for our community.

It is now clearer than ever that schools are more than just buildings. They are full of personal interactions that provide critical educational and social anchors, shaping our youth during important developmental years. And they offer food and other resources that can be vital lifelines for families.

As many students struggled to adjust to an unfamiliar manner of learning last year, isolation from their peers took an additional toll on their mental health, fraying the social fabric of the school community and further burdening families already weighed down by the stress of the pandemic. We need to mend that fabric by returning to in-person instruction so students and their families can again experience these vital social and educational benefits.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, concern for health and safety in schools has guided our decisions and recommendations. We’ve pivoted as we learned more about COVID-19 and how it spreads, and we’ve relied on the vital input of school administrators, educators, and families. Early on, the limited information we had led us to embrace distance learning as the best means to slow the spread of COVID-19. We have since learned through numerous scientific studies that we have multiple tools to help keep children and educators safe.

We now know that the risk of transmission of COVID-19 among children wearing masks is very low. This risk is even lower now that the Bay Area has some of the highest vaccination rates in the world. Roughly 84.3% of people 12 and older in Santa Clara County have gotten at least one dose, and more than 78.2% are fully vaccinated. In the coming months, children under 12 will also become eligible for vaccination against COVID-19, which will provide an additional level of protection. But we must not wait for that change in order to fully reopen schools. Our educators have been getting vaccinated since February, and our children need the educational, social, and physical and mental health benefits of in-person education as soon as possible.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has issued updated guidelines for students and staff in schools, which include a requirement for universal masking indoors by all students, faculty and staff. These regulations rely on the most recent scientific information about the spread of COVID-19 and careful tracking of variants in California.

By following CDPH’s guidance, we can keep our community as safe as possible while taking the vital step of bringing our children back into their classrooms.

Health officials throughout California agree — it’s time to return to full in-person instruction, for the good of students, teachers, parents, the school community, and the community at large. It’s a scientifically sound decision and the right thing to do. Let’s work together to get all of our children back in school full time this fall.

Dr. Sarah L. Rudman, is the Santa Clara County assistant health officer. Mary Ann Dewan is the Santa Clara County superintendent of schools.

* This Op-Ed was originally published on July 29, 2021 in The Mercury News and it has been reproduced with permission of its authors.