"Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world" Nelson Mandela
As the academic year wraps up in many countries, school administrators are taking stock of their experiences and looking to public-health officials to help them plan for the coming school year. In the United States, more than half of all school districts had resumed full-time instruction by early June, and nearly all offered at least some in-person learning.
The dropout rate in the United States was on a steady decline in the years before the pandemic. However, according to the US Department of Education, the dropout rate for high school students this year fell dramatically.
Whether out of necessity or overcautiousness, the closure of classrooms has the biggest impact on students from underserved communities. They are more likely to have unreliable internet access or a caregiver who is affected by the economic impacts of the pandemic. The economic impact of the pandemic means some older students may have had to take a job to make up for one lost by a family member. Or they've had to step up to handle child care for siblings or their own kids. Educators in New Orleans told CNN the attendance numbers are a challenge for all high school grades.Their world has been turned upside down, and that, educators say, can make school move down the priority list, especially for teenagers.
"Many kids hate online school," Justin Ross-Hillard, co-principal of The NET: Central City, a New Orleans high school, told CNN. "You know, a lot of kids are not programmed to do school virtually.”
"What we know is statistically students who miss a semester or are not successful in a semester, their likelihood of dropping out or not returning to school does increase every semester that they are unsuccessful," said Ross-Hillard.” If in-classroom instruction does not resume in fall 2021, that there will be an additional 1.1 million high-school dropouts in the U.S.
Virtual school has not only affected students, but mothers as well.
Double Duty: Women Hit harder by the Pandemic
As we know, COVID-19 has massively disrupted American life. Beginning in March, non-essential businesses closed their doors, workers were furloughed or laid off, and schools and daycares sent children home. At its peak, 95% of the U.S. population was under stay at home orders.
Though the pandemic has made workplace flexibility more of a reality for some workers, school closing has especially put working moms at their breaking point when it comes to balancing home life and work life.
“‘I’m not surprised as this has been an incredibly hard year in many ways,’ Bridget van Kralingen, IBM’s global markets senior vice president tells CNBC Make It. ‘And I think if companies don’t step up to help, there will be long-term impacts.’
Those long-term impacts include a decrease in the talent pipeline of women, as well as a decrease in overall career earnings if women leave the workplace due to lack of ambition or burnout. For example, if a woman starts working at 22 earning $50,000 a year, and takes a three-year career break at 26, studies show that she stands to lose roughly $506,000 due to a combination of lost salary, retirement savings and Social Security contributions.
AnnMarie Duchon, a single mom of an 11-year-old, knows how overwhelming things have been for working parents this past year. As the interim director of disability services for a university in Massachusetts, Duchon has been fortunate enough to work from home. But, between taking care of her daughter who is in remote school, and running errands for her elderly parents in order to limit their exposure to Covid-19, she says things have been “a real challenge.”
Similar to Duchon, more than a third of women with children under 18 say ‘difficulty balancing work and family obligations’ are the main reason for their burnout. Already, Duchon says she’s had one staff member quit because it was too much to take care of her newborn baby and two other young children while balancing work.
Over the past year, more than 2.3 million women have left the labor force and therefore are not included in the unemployment count. By comparison, roughly 1.8 million men have left the labor force over the same time period. It’s time to get women back to work.
Disruption of Education is Causing Learning and Mental Health Issues
Unnecessary exclusions are costly. Not only in terms of lost educational progress, but also in terms of lack of ability to work for their caretakers, which are mostly women.
Children can ill-afford to lose more time away from school. Mental health issues are rising from the lack of social contact with other students and teachers.
Bringing children back is essential for experiential learning; vaccination and COVID-19 testing is a key component of an effective strategy. Implementing surveillance testing when infection rates go up above a certain threshold will ensure a safe schooling environment and enable staying open is better than going back on lockdowns.
It’s our Collective Responsibility to Use the Tools Given to Us:
It remains our collective responsibility to ensure that as we begin returning to a new normal, which means living with this pathogen in a safe and intelligent manner, we leverage the experience we gained during the first stage of the pandemic using the tools we have that we know work. And today, we have multiple tools in the toolbox, most of which work synergistically:
- Social distancing
In a year that kept students apart in so many ways, the University of Vermont community came together in solid and supportive teamwork to learn on campus, find new ways to connect—and to keep the COVID infection rate one of the lowest in the country.
"In the spirit of giving back, for every student vaccination card collected before August 1, select members of the UVM Foundation Board will donate $3.00 to Rally Cat’s Cupboard (UVM’s student-run, on-campus food pantry). If every student submits their card, we could raise over $30,000 for this incredible organization," says the administration.
"Effective Tuesday, June 1, 2021, any student who is fully vaccinated is no longer required to test every seven days. To be exempt from the required testing, students must provide verification to Student Health Services confirming that they are fully vaccinated. Any student who is not fully vaccinated is required to test over the summer and must continue to test every seven days."
In the following we share some novel ideas as well as proven strategies that in different combinations can enable students to safely return to school:
1) Incentivize parents to get their children vaccinated
Vaccines are now FDA EUA approved for children over 12 years of age. Schools and school districts are consistently a large part of the daily life for many American children and families and uniquely positioned to teach about, link to, or even deliver COVID-19 vaccines. In the U.S as of July 11th, 2021, only 48 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. While not always 100% effective, vaccination still remains one of the best protection against severe disease from COVID-19 and the spread of the Delta variant.
As children generally have milder illness and fewer symptoms, cases may sometimes go unnoticed. Importantly, early data from studies suggest that infection rates among teenagers may be higher than in younger children. We have seen breakthrough infections, they are rare however. Moreover, they can be fatal for at-risk individuals. School children are potential vectors/transmitters of COVID-19 to other family members that could get seriously sick, hospitalized, and potentially die.
The public school district in New Canaan, Connecticut, recently held a vaccination clinic for students over the age of 16 and are poised to offer another one for those 12 and up immediately after the Food and Drug Administration’s approval is announced, according to Bryan Luizzi, superintendent of New Canaan Public Schools.
In the letter, Head of School Willy MacMullen said Taft will require all of its students to have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 when they return in the fall. A document linked as the “Taft Immunization Policy” on the school’s website says that students need to be “fully vaccinated upon entry to the Taft School and the Taft Summer School.”
“To be clear, there will be many details that we will need to resolve during the summer — we will look at everything, from classroom spaces to dorm practices to afternoon program — but I am confident that requiring the vaccine will let Taft students have the kind of experience they yearn for and could not have this year,” MacMullen said.
Here is what some universities in the US are doing to promote vaccinations:
• Cook, the student health center administrator said the university will let students who have not yet been vaccinated with an approved vaccine move into residence halls and attend in-person classes, but they will have to wear face masks and participate in surveillance testing. They will also be subject to any city health department requirements related to COVID-19 testing and restriction of activities upon arrival. She said these students will be able to attend in-person classes while they get vaccinated.
• Stockton University in New Jersey is one of hundreds of colleges requiring students get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus this fall. Students have until Aug. 1 to provide the university with proof of vaccination status or to request an exemption on medical or religious grounds. Furthermore, there’s an incentive for Stockton students to submit their paperwork early: students who submitted proof of vaccination by July 8 were eligible for a drawing to win a year of free tuition or room and board, and university officials are planning for two additional drawings in August.
• Seton Hall University, a Roman Catholic university also in New Jersey, is requiring students, faculty and staff to submit a declaration of their vaccination status. On Thursday the university reported data from about 87.1 percent of members of the university community who have responded, of which 74.9 percent report being fully vaccinated, 4.2 percent report having received the first of two injections, 6.9 percent report planning to get vaccinated and 14.1 percent report they will be seeking an exemption.
Here is what your school can do to incentivize vaccinations:
1. Set up a COVID-19 vaccination clinic
• The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) partnered with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to hold 250 SLV clinics across the district using their school-based health centers or mobile clinics to reach COVID-19 vaccine eligible middle and high school students before the summer of 2021
• East Hartford High School in Connecticut allowed COVID-19 vaccine eligible students a “skip day” to miss class and be vaccinated at a large clinic run by a community health center on two runways of the local airport. By partnering with the Capital Region Educational Council (CREC), the school was able to bus more than 1,000 students—with permission from their parents—to be vaccinated. Health experts from the community health center also answered COVID-19 vaccination questions from parents in a virtual town hall.
2. Partner up on COVID-19 vaccine-related activities in your community
• Host an SLV clinic.
• Invite a health expert to sit on the school district’s community advisory board to inform members on health issues such as COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccination.
• Find nursing assistance to support schools with limited access to nurses.
3. Promote vaccine confidence among students, parents, and guardians
• Encourage teachers and staff to share their COVID-19 vaccination stories on social media and/or through school. Seeing adults they trust getting the COVID-19 vaccine can spur students to talk with their families and also put their minds at ease about vaccination.
• Invite students to wear their COVID-19 vaccination stickers to school.
2) Mandate mask-wearing
The vaccines prevent severe illness in most individuals, but it has still yet to be known if they prevent transmission. Vaccinated individuals may still be asymptomatic spreaders. Wearing a mask, and enforcing the policy at school, will protect students, faculty and the community.
The WHO has recommended the following guidelines for school children:
1. Children aged 5 years and under should not be required to wear masks.
2. For children between six and 11 years of age, a risk-based approach should be applied to the decision to use a mask, considering:
• intensity of transmission in the area where the child is and evidence on the risk of infection and transmission in this age group.
• beliefs, customs and behaviors.
• the child’s capacity to comply with the correct use of masks and availability of adult supervision.
• potential impact of mask-wearing on learning and development.
• additional considerations such as sports activities or for children with disabilities or underlying diseases.
3. Children and adolescents 12 years or older should follow the national mask guidelines for adults.
4. Teacher and support staff may be required to wear masks when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-meter distance from others or there is widespread transmission in the area.
Multiple cities and states have issued new vaccine-or-test mandates or reinstated mask rules in recent weeks amid the delta variant-driven case surge, including two of the former epicenters -- California and New York. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that every city employee will have to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or get tested weekly starting in mid-September. He described that a day later as "positive pressure" to get vaccinated.
3) Test children before they return to campus
Because 50%–80% of infected individuals are asymptomatic it’s not sufficient to perform testing on symptomatic individuals. According to Harvard’s plan: “All students, faculty, staff, and other affiliates who have an on-campus presence greater than 4 hours per week but do not live in undergraduate dorms/houses must be tested once per week.” More information here on the effectiveness of various strategies.
Dartmouth College's plan to bring students back to campus for the 2020-21 academic year emphasizes the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff and includes frequent testing for the COVID-19 virus.
• Dartmouth arranges pre-arrival COVID-19 testing for incoming students. The saliva-based kits are mailed to domestic students at an address they provide.
• They will further be required to be tested twice a week if they are not fully vaccinated. Those who are fully vaccinated may reduce their testing to once every 30 days."
Since July 1, 2020, Dartmouth has seen only 410 positive cases out of 252,025 tests conducted, meaning a mere 0.16% positive cases. In other words, this strategy has worked while the community infection rate increased beyond 1 percent.
4) Social distancing
The CDC now recommends that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classroom settings. CDC has updated its operational strategy to say:
• In elementary schools, CDC recommends all students remain at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal — regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate, substantial, or high.
• In middle and high schools, CDC also recommends students should be at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal and in communities where transmission is low, moderate, or substantial.
• Middle school students and high school students should be at least 6 feet apart in communities where transmission is high if cohorting is not possible. Cohorting is when groups of students are kept together with the same peers and staff throughout the school day to reduce the risk for spread throughout the school. This recommendation is because COVID-19 transmission dynamics are different in older students – that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children.
Genomic Expression's COVID-19 testing program for schools
We want to assist schools get children back on campus for in-person classroom learning and stay open through the next COVID-19 surges.
We offer a non-invasive saliva-based COVID-19 PCR testing program that is FDA EUA approved for screening of asymptomatic individuals and unsupervised self-collection. Effective pooling of up to 24 samples making large-scale testing affordable.
Our pooled-based COVID19 testing service has been used by 500 schools and 1.5 million students.
It includes a dashboard to monitor who is vaccinated, when to test, consent, and delivers test results to the school and health care provider follow-up with any positive cases.
The test is simple: spit in a tube, send it to our lab, and within 24 hours the test results are available online, and also automatically sent to the parents and school directly, while you maintain the overview from a dashboard.
We know that kids "love the spit test" and that non-invasive testing is easier to acceptable by parents.
We entered into a collaboration with Yale University/Saliva Direct to prove that saliva is just as effective a sample type as the invasive and very uncomfortable nasopharyngeal (NP) swab test, which requires a healthcare worker to administer it. This test has kept the NBA playing and many organizations open throughout the pandemic. You can learn more about our specific school offering here
To learn more call us at 617 300 8888