Study: Hybrid learning in classroom is not much riskier than remote learning

With the vast majority of Washington public schools only doing remote learning, parents say they are worried about the students who are slipping through the cracks.

“What’s going on right now is a death of apathy, that is going to be difficult to recover, and I am concerned that there are some students who aren’t going to be able to recover from it,” parent Megan Giles said.

Giles, a mother of three, in Clearview says her kids are struggling with online learning.

She is a former 7th-grade teacher and Giles says she understands the tough logistics of getting kids back inside the classroom. But she believes it can be done.

“If we want to match up the people who don’t want to go back with teachers who don’t want to go back, we could make it work,” Giles said.

On Thursday, the Washington Department of Health released a new report by the Institute of Disease Modeling that supports Giles’ belief that it may be worth sending young kids back in person.

“The risk is lower for children who are younger probably because they are possibly less susceptible,” Lacy Fehrenbach with DOH said.

Fehrenbach says they are watching other states that do have in-person learning. The science so far, she says, does not show many outbreaks or high transmission rates among young kids.

If you take COVID numbers from early October, IDM says hybrid learning among elementary school kids does not pose a higher risk than all remote learning. That is as long as countermeasures are in place, like symptom screenings, mask-wearing, hand washing, and contact tracing.

“It shows emphatically that if we take countermeasures if we are safe about it, be smart about it, there are definitely benefits,” Giles said.

Without countermeasures, IDM is predicting that 45% of teachers and staff along with 33% of kids could get infected over a 3-month span.

With safety measures in place, the infection rate dramatically drops to 2% for students and teachers even with a full 5 days back inside the classroom.

The study also looked at the effectiveness of frequent testing and rapid testing. IDM says those kinds of testing would be most effectively used in communities with very high COVID numbers.  

“There is got to be a shot to pull the band-aid off at some point in time, I don’t understand why we can’t trust the staff to take the measures,” Giles said.

Dr. Daniel Klein says the study was based on 75 cases per 100,000 people, a rate we saw in early October. COVID numbers as of Friday are higher in many parts of Washington, so what does that mean for kids going back to school?

“I can’t comment quantitatively in what the increase will be in those types of settings but we will work to try to get those numbers if we can,” Dr. Daniel Klein with IDM said.

Giles says she hopes school districts and local health departments will heavily weigh the new findings moving forward.

State health officials say the decision to bring kids back will ultimately come down to local districts.

They also voiced concerns about the current surge of cases.

Fehrenbach said if we wanted to get older kids back to school, the community would have to work together to bring the numbers down. They reiterated the importance of limiting social interactions especially the ones inside.