Medical Guide Helps Parents With Back-to-School Decisions

Experts from Children's Health and UT Southwestern put together a guide to help parents look at the risks and decide what's best for their families

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Parents across North Texas have had to make really tough decisions this summer on whether their child should go back to the classroom or learn virtually.

Every school district is doing something different, whether that's delaying the start of the school year, starting off with virtual learning or giving parents options.

Dallas Independent School District said parents have until Aug. 25 to make a decision for in-person or online learning. School starts on Sept. 8 -- after Labor Day.

“It’s complicated, there’s a lot of information out there, and a lot of misinformation out there. It’s confusing, so we thought me and colleagues at UT Southwestern and Children’s thought we would put this website together for a variety of reasons," said Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, a professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern and chief of infectious diseases at Children's Medical Center.

He said they've received many calls from families that they take care of who are looking for guidance.

The website is called the COVID-19 Back-to-School Guidance and it designates risk categories and circumstances that may impact families.

It shows a "patient risk" chart where it has "lower" highlighted in yellow, which indicates a minimal risk and "in-person school with appropriate precautions, per local public health and ISD guidance." The orange and red columns, symbolize moderate and high risk, which translates to the recommendation for online and remote learning.

When a parent scrolls down, they'll see different categories for diseases and medication and can see one that corresponds to their family needs.

For example, someone whose asthma is severe and persistent would be categorized as high risk and recommended to learn remotely.

"The concept here was to have one place where we could have a lot of information where parents could start to get some information about how to approach the going back to school issue and that was really the push behind creating this website," Kahn said. "I think it's robust, it's very, very informative and of course we couldn’t address every particular situation so it's important to note that when parents are viewing this, they may have situations that are not covered by the website, and in that case, I urge them to consult with their pediatrician and subspecialist and come to a decision about returning to school.”

Kahn said he believes a lot of kids will probably fall into a low-risk category.

"Children for whatever reason, we don't really understand this, seem to be far less prone to severe disease caused by COVID-19, however, we do see children get sick, we do see children without underlying risk factors get ill, and of course there are children with underlying health factors who are very prone to a virus infection."

He said while it's important to think about the children, it's also critical to note who lives at home.

"Deciding to send your child to school is more than just a decision about your child, it’s a decision about who else lives in your household," Kahn said. “We know that the virus circulates through children, we know that children get infected, we know that children can spread the infection and we also know that the greatest chance of getting infected is having somebody in your household who is infected."

Parents like Sky Rashid and her husband Khalil, have four kids, three who attend different schools.

Their 12-year-old son, is in middle school, 8-year-old daughter is in elementary and five-year-old daughter is in kindergarten. She also has a two-year-old boy who is not in the school system yet.

The district her kids attend has opted to do virtual learning for the first several weeks. She said they will re-evaluate in nine weeks, but Rashid would have kept her kids at home anyway.

"My daughter has down syndrome and so with all of her health issues and stuff like that I just have to think a little extra, as well as she has three other siblings," Rashid said. "With RSV season coming and flu season coming along,with winter on top of COVID, I think there’s a lot to think about."

Her daughter, Lilly, whose fifth birthday is today, also had open heart surgery several years ago.

She said anytime her daughter get's sick, it can lead to a potential hospital visit.

"Whenever she got RSV we were in the hospital for two weeks, and she was in the ICU,' explained Rashid.

She said she doesn't want to take any chances with COVID-19.

"You know it is a lot of pressure especially being in quarantine this long and of course I want them them to go see their friends and make new friends and all of that, but at this point, you know it’s what’s safest for everyone even the teachers, it’s a lot to think about.”

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