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In-person Learning Is Best Choice For Students

Labor Day signals the start of the new school year. And with the continued threat of COVID-19, many parents are understandably concerned about the safety of sending their children back to in-person classrooms.

Returning to the classroom is still the best choice for students.

When the pandemic hit, teachers did their best to educate students under unbelievably challenging circumstances. They went above and beyond to make things work. They checked in with students who didn’t login for remote lecture sessions … spent countless hours meeting virtually with parents and students to break down difficult-to-understand classroom topics … they participated in drive-by parades … and they paid socially distanced home visits.

And to try to preserve some of the social aspects of school, teachers scheduled Google classroom meets, virtual field trips and online clubs and classroom parties.

Through hard work and ingenuity, educators and school staff made remote learning work. But remote learning is no substitute for hands-on instruction. Kids learn best when they have teachers in front of the classroom, not in front of a computer screen.

And the benefits of in-person education extend beyond academics. While yes, it’s easier for kids to understand lessons when they can directly interact with their teachers, they also benefit socially when they’re with their peers. Kids need their friends. Being able to hang out with their peers makes them happier, healthier and they learn better.

Informal lunch time meet ups, quick conversations in the hallway and extracurricular activities like sports and school clubs, teach kids important lessons about how to socially interact with the world around them. School teaches more than just academics -- it teaches kids how to become well-rounded citizens.

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees. In guidance published this summer, the AAP strongly advocated a return to in-person teaching for students. Researchers noted that “the pandemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on children, and it’s not just their education that has suffered but their mental, emotional and physical health.”

They contend that children face a higher risk of suffering from mental health issues and developmental setbacks when they miss out on in-school learning.

And reassuringly, the AAP’s Council on School Health explains that schools in general don’t significantly increase community transmission when masking and other safety measures like vaccination and proper hygiene are in place.

Last month the State Education Department issued statewide recommendations on reopening schools. In response, we at NYSUT reaffirmed our support for the health and safety recommendations endorsed by public health experts and SED. These include universal masking … robust surveillance testing … and other measures -- all part of a layered, holistic approach to health and safety.

As educators, we know that the best place for students to learn is in the classroom. We must do everything we can to ensure that every student has access to full-time, in-person instruction this year. That starts with ensuring that our schools are safe and healthy for students and staff.

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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