The American Academy of Pediatrics has clarified its stance on school reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic after the Trump administration repeatedly used the academy’s previous statement to pressure school systems to resume in-person learning in the fall.
The AAP, in a joint statement with three large education organizations, emphasized that school reopening should be driven by science and safety—“not politics.” It also directly responded to President Trump’s threat of withholding funding from schools that did not reopen, calling the move a “misguided approach.”
The point was echoed Monday by Michael Ryan, an infectious disease expert with the World Health Organization, who implored countries not to let school reopening become “yet another political football.”
“The best and safest way to reopen schools is in the context of low community transmission that has been effectively suppressed by a broad-based comprehensive strategy,” Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said in a press briefing.
Though the role children play in the spread of COVID-19 is still poorly understood, Ryan noted that schools are intricately entwined in communities. Countries can’t expect to effectively address the pandemic by focusing on school reopening for a few weeks, then move to workplace reopening, and then to outbreaks in healthcare setting, etc., he cautioned. That’s playing “whack-a-mole,” Ryan said. Instead, countries should focus on comprehensive, long-term strategies that address all contexts at once.
“We’ve got to chew gum and walk at the same time,” he said. “And we have to make decisions based on the best interests of our children.”
The Trump administration has intensified its push for schools to reopen in recent days despite dismaying surges in cases in much of the United States. Florida, for instance, reported a record-smashing tally of more than 15,000 cases on Sunday alone, the largest of any single state since the pandemic began.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday gave a dire warning to the US and other countries seeing surges. “It’s going to get worse and worse and worse,” he said, unless people start following the basic precautions against disease spread. That is, physical distancing, hand-washing, wearing masks, coughing etiquette, and staying at home when sick.
Still, the Trump administration has eyed school reopening as key to reviving the economy and has stepped up pressure on states to have physical classrooms open this fall, before the election. In its rationale, the administration has often cited the AAP’s June interim guidance, which “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” The academy noted the many benefits schools provide children, such as “social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits” beyond academic instruction.
But the AAP has always said that any returns should be done safely and required more investment in education—all points emphasized in the new statement released Friday.
Along with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and, AASA (the School Superintendents Association), the AAP wrote that “Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics.”
The groups called on Congress and the administration to provide more funds for schools to safely reopen, and they cautioned that any schools in areas with high levels of COVID-19 community spread “should not be compelled to reopen.”