In a letter sent to Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and local complex area superintendents, six East Hawaii pediatricians — Lauren Stuart, Miki Cain, Darrett Choi, Joseph D’Angelo, Ty DeSilva and Diana Lindreoth — have recommended keiki return to full-time, in-person learning without delay.
Although closing schools to in-person instruction was originally thought necessary to protect the health and safety of the community, the physicians say it’s now clear that the move has had negative impacts on students and their families.
“Depression, suicide attempts … child abuse and domestic violence have skyrocketed dramatically nationwide and on the islands,” the letter reads. “Despite the best efforts of our teachers and aids, online learning cannot adequately provide personalized attention, equal learning opportunities, nutrition or the social and emotional benefits of attending school in person.”
In places where primary and secondary schools have opened on the mainland, contracting COVID-19 has been shown to be more likely in the community than in schools, the doctors say.
“Given these realities, our government leaders have prioritized which businesses, services and gatherings we value most,” the letter continues. “We believe schools deserve to be at the top of this list. Unless and until our state leaders impose stricter restrictions on nonessential businesses and gatherings, we advocate for schools to open now.”
While returning to in-person learning might not be the right decision for every family, the letter said families should have a choice.
In addition to her work as a pediatrician, Stuart said she has elementary-age children of her own.
“I’ve been watching the consequences of these kids being at home the last 10 months,” she said.
With distance learning, keiki are spending “an inordinate amount of time in front of their screens,” Stuart said, and doctors are seeing behavioral issues such as anxiety, depression and anger emerge.
“They’re miserable, parents are miserable,” she said. “I know a lot more fourth-grade math than I wanted to know. … I don’t know how every school functions, but most parents and kids report approximately one hour a day of actual instruction from a teacher. The rest of the time is watching videos or answering questions online.”
Stuart said her husband has friends working in health care in Colorado. Pediatricians there wrote a letter to the Department of Education, which encouraged the department to open schools earlier, she said.
That inspired the Big Island doctors’ letter to Hawaii’s DOE.
According to Stuart, recent studies found that reopening schools doesn’t increase COVID-19 hospitalization rates if those rates are below a certain threshold.
Indeed, a study from the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice found no evidence that reopening schools in-person or in a hybrid form increased COVID hospitalizations in the 75% of counties that had low hospitalization rates in the summer prior to reopening schools.
“Our results suggest that it seems safe to reopen schools when there are no more than 36 to 44 new COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 people per week.”
“We’re well below that hospitalization level where it’s dangerous to have (students in school),” Stuart said.
Likewise, a study from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research that evaluated evidence from Michigan and Washington suggests that the choice to offer hybrid or fully in-person instruction is not “significantly contributing to COVID spread in communities when there are low or modest pre-existing rates in the population.”
It was found, however, that in-person schooling led to community spread of the virus when case rates in the counties were high.
“Schools are essential for the mental, physical and social well-being of children,” the letter reads. “Given our greatly improved understanding of COVID-19, its minimal impact on children and low transmission rates within schools, and the rollout of an effective vaccine, we stand together in support of the initiatives, actions and funding needed to open our schools.
“We cannot allow the children of Hawaii to continue to carry the burden of this disease alone, isolated at home, falling further behind while the rest of the community continues to progress towards normalcy.
“Our children must be our number one priority.”
Email Stephanie Salmons at email@example.com.