Should you send your child back to the classroom? It’s a tough decision in the middle of a pandemic, and many uncertainties remain. But here are some signposts, courtesy of experts consulted by the Globe.
1. Coronavirus has mostly been kind to children.
Although children can get infected, they rarely get very sick. Most seem to have no symptoms. The frightening syndrome associated with COVID-19 — Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children — has so far proven exceedingly rare.
2. Schools appear to be unlikely to drive community outbreaks.
The jury is still out on how readily infected children transmit the virus to others. They do carry the virus but don’t seem to spread it as easily as adults, especially children under 10. Countries in Europe opened schools without sparking hotspots. The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month that coronavirus transmission within schools is uncommon and that there is little evidence schools drive transmission within a community.
3. Keeping your children home also has risks.
It’s natural to worry about the risk of COVID-19. But keeping children home could endanger their mental and physical well-being, as well as their education. The risk-benefit calculus is especially stark for children younger than 10: Based on the evidence so far, these youngsters are the least likely to get sick from the coronavirus or to transmit it to others, and they have the most to lose if isolated from their peers at home.
4. What’s happening outside the school is a critical factor.
Experts caution that it’s not wise to open school when infections are raging outside its walls. Mixing adults and children in a hard-to-control environment, from the school bus to the cafeteria, raises the risk of further transmission. But when a community has coronavirus under control, as is the case in most of Massachusetts, a return to school is considered safe — provided the schools are taking appropriate precautions.
5. What happens inside the school also matters.
Parents should look for evidence that the school is taking the COVID-19 risk seriously and doing everything it can to limit spread. That would include requiring mask-wearing by children and adults, keeping groups small, encouraging physical distancing, and allowing as much fresh air as possible.
6. Nothing is perfect.
The risk of COVID-19 cannot be reduced to zero. Some of the information above could change with new knowledge. Kids will sometimes take off their masks and sneeze. The best you can do? Try to reduce the risk of transmission as much as possible.