I am writing as the parent of an elementary school-aged child in Rhode Island to express my extreme concern over the way the state of Rhode Island is handling the current COVID crisis in the public school system.  Most schools in the state are addressing positive cases (in most cases asymptomatic children) by quarantining either entire classes, or large groups of “close contacts” (determined by various dubious methods of seating charts, etc).  This method of testing and quarantining is unsustainable and not in the best interests of students or families.

Last winter, with many unknowns, no vaccine, and an overwhelmed health care system, such restrictions could be potentially justified as “appropriate.”  This virus has now been present in our population for almost two years (that we are aware of) - by this point, every individual has been exposed in some capacity (ie the virus is what is termed “endemic” in the population, much like influenza).  Most of the population including teachers and school staff has been vaccinated.  Schools continue to force children to wear masks and enact other social distancing protocols. Yet there is no relaxation of quarantining and testing requirements in schools.  COVID causes mild, self-limiting disease in school-age children.  Schools are not on par with vulnerable populations such as nursing homes or hospitals and should not be treated as such - they are groups of by-and-large healthy, extremely low-risk individuals.   If you are sick with upper respiratory symptoms, stay home until you are symptom-free. This protocol has worked well for decades in preventing outbreaks of contagious disease in schools.  We should continue to use reasonable protocols that do not punish large groups of asymptomatic individuals. 

Children are being short-changed in the worst possible way by the community that is supposed to be supporting them.  Distance learning is inferior to in-person learning and additionally creates a domino effect of behavior and logistical issues for children and families.  Schools should be fighting to keep children in person, not finding ways to keep part of the student body home.

In protocol iterations planned for 2022, schools will be allowing vaccinated students who are deemed “close contacts” to remain in-person learning without quarantine or testing, while unvaccinated students are expected to continue the restrictive quarantine and testing measures that have been in place for the better part of a year.  I would like to see the data that support vaccinated individuals being less likely to spread COVID, and data to support vaccinated individuals being less likely to test positive.  The reality is that data does not exist, because vaccinated people are just as likely to test positive and spread disease – this is documented data which is being purported as the reason why other control measures are still necessary.  One cannot have it both ways – a vaccine cannot be an ineffective method of controlling spread, and yet be used as a “get out of jail free” card for testing and quarantine.

Just as importantly, there are valid medical concerns regarding the safety of this very new vaccine in young children.  These concerns are supported by many in the pediatric medical community, including the experts on the FDA panel that approved the vaccine for use in children aged 5-11 years – and yet we are compelling parents to vaccinate their elementary school-aged children with the threat of missing out on in-person learning if they choose to remain unvaccinated.  Since when did a medical decision between a parent and their child’s doctor become anyone else’s business to pass judgment on?  COVID poses a minuscule risk to a child’s health.  Other diseases such as polio are highly contagious and carry a high risk of morbidity and mortality for school-aged children.  A child can be unvaccinated for polio and be allowed to stay in school, but a child unvaccinated for COVID is a huge health risk?  This simply makes no sense.

We are continuing to blanket-address an issue which is clearly an example of shutting the barn door after the horse is out (and miles away!).  We are negatively affecting children and families in numerous and significant ways, many with far-reaching implications.  It is the job of both the schools and their higher authorities to be advocates for students and their families.  Hearing that this is the “best we can do”, and that we simply must deal with it, is no longer a reasonable response.  We are 2 years into this pandemic, and it is time to begin restructuring our protocols for the long-term.  The current system of mass classroom quarantines and mandatory testing is not a sustainable approach, and in the meantime is causing irreparable damage to our children and families.

Our children deserve a full, proper education with all the academic and emotional support that they have received in the past.  It is time to return children’s lives to the levels of normalcy and routine that best support their learning, mental health, and the mental and financial stability of families.  It is unconscionable to punish parents and children for health decisions made by a medical professional during the privacy of a doctor’s visit.  At what point does the testing and quarantine domino effect stop?  What exactly are the expectations or requirements for a “return to normal?” Nobody can seem to answer these questions.  The time is now, before any further damage is done.

Seychelle Hoffer

Wakefield

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