Thousands of students will be facing COVID for a long time. Schools need to plan now

School concluded for the year, giving teachers a moment to breathe a sigh of relief. But now, as they dive into planning for next year, a major challenge looms, and most of them don’t face it: How will they support students who will struggle daily with the long COVID?

Education Week asked several school district’s national and regional organizations and supervisors how their members plan to manage student needs as the effects of COVID continue. They all said the problem hasn’t appeared on counties’ radar yet, although tens of thousands of children nationwide will likely encounter those difficulties. This worries medical and legal experts.

“Schools need to start talking about this,” said Donna Mazick, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses. “There may be an increased need for accommodations. They need to recognize this and have teams to deal with it. We have to be prepared.”

The most common symptoms of prolonged coronavirus infection in children are headache, fatigue and difficulty sleeping, but a wide range of other illnesses have been linked to the virus. They include ‘brain fog’, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, joint or muscle pain, digestive problems, anxiety, and erectile dysfunction — a drop in blood pressure when someone moves from a prone position to an upright position.

Here are the main suggestions from medical and legal experts, and those who have been supporting families struggling with COVID for the long haul, as schools plan for next year.

Know that a prolonged COVID illness may affect your students.

Approximately 13.5 million children in the United States have contracted COVID-19 19 percent of all US COVID-19 casesAccording to the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is not yet clear how many symptoms will appear for weeks or months afterward, but researchers estimate it could be between 20 and 30 percent.

Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy, who co-led two long-running COVID studies at the University of Arizona School of Medicine in Tucson, said more — and better — research is needed to accurately project the number of children who will experience COVID symptoms once the acute phase of the disease has passed. But he believes the field is “significantly underestimating” its spread, because many doctors do not link children’s symptoms to COVID.

Long-running COVID-19 “could define an entire subset of children within a generation,” said Dr. Maddy Horning, a physician and long-time study of COVID at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. When asked how she might affect K-12 schools in the next five years, she said:

You know the meme floating around shows someone saying ‘It’s all right! “When are the fires burning around them? I feel like this is where we are now.”

Expect more students to look for accommodations, and boost your process accordingly.

Students with prolonged COVID-19 may require a wide range of accommodation. The Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, which runs a post-COVID clinic for children and a nursing education program for schools, Lists nearly twentyFrom virtual learning and scheduling flexibility to curriculum adjustments and allowing elevators to be used instead of stairs.

Dr. Horning said prudent school districts will now begin work to strengthen the teams evaluating accommodation requests under federal law: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

To support these assessments, districts should consider building partnerships with outside experts: pulmonologists, neurologists, physical and occupational therapists, and other professionals who are well-versed in the long dynamics of COVID, she said, given that student primary care physicians and pediatricians may not be on the Familiar with the still emerging profile of the long Covid virus.

To facilitate consultations with these experts, schools should consider expanding telehealth, Dr. Hornig and Parthasarathy said. Since many online platforms do not comply with the privacy regulations of the Federal Health Insurance Transportation and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, counties could consider purchasing a HIPAA-compliant platform such as Zoom for Healthcare, Dr. Parthasarathy said.

Train all staff to be aware of symptoms, so that they can make referrals to school health teams.

Experts said every employee who interacts with children can help identify those who may need support for the long term of COVID. Schools should consider letting their staff know about common signs and symptoms, such as those identified by the Federal Reserve Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Teachers may be the first to notice changes in a student,” said Megan Rossler, an educational nurse at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Experts said it is more important than ever to inquire about students’ health and behavior in ways that might connect the dots. “If a student’s grades are going down, ask yourselves: Does this kid have brain fog?” Dr. Parthasarathy said. Mazek said a student’s chronic absence can start a conversation that leads to diagnosis and medical support.

You don’t need a ‘long COVID’ diagnosis.

Medical organizations have identified symptoms associated with prolonged COVID, but there is no test to diagnose it. Students may only have one show or groups. Schools should not insist that families provide a long-term COVID diagnosis in order to receive accommodations, but instead should base decisions on physical issues or mentality presented by the students. Members handle legal issues for students with special needs.

J.D. Davids, co-founder of the Long COVID Justice Network, which supports families dealing with extended COVID and other chronic disabilities, said facilities should be “diagnostic neutral.” “A child with brain fog, or crippling fatigue for whatever reason, needs amenities. We need to err on the side of believing them.”

The Biden administration has made clear that COVID has long been considered a disability under federal law, meaning that students with the condition are entitled to accommodations, usually through an Individualized Education Plan or a “504” plan. Marshall said. education Issue guidelines on this topic last summer.

Marshall said requests for accommodations for the long COVID virus are just starting to come in. She said districts’ responses were “across the board,” with some being cooperative and others “expending their energy looking for ways to say no rather than finding ways to support students.”

“They have to remember that they are required by law to look at each child individually and provide what they need,” Marshall said. With millions of federal dollars available for coronavirus relief, she said, “no one can say there is a shortage of resources.”

Build flexibility and energy conservation into students’ plans.

Prolonged COVID symptoms in students may diminish and fade, or disappear for a while and then return. That’s why schools need to prioritize flexibility in their planning for these students, said Kennedy Krieger’s Rossler.

Because many children with COVID for a long time experience fatigue, Rossler said, it will be important for schools to create adjustments that are “oriented toward energy conservation, whether that’s cognitive or physical.” This could mean letting them come to school earlier or leave later, take frequent breaks, or use a blended schedule that allows them to study remotely part-time, said Patricia Fatu, another nurse at Kennedy Krieger.

“They really need to look seriously at home instruction and continuous distance learning,” Davids said.

Rochelle Rankin’s daughter struggled with prolonged Covid-19 during her sophomore and high school year in Clark County, Nevada, and dealt with extreme fatigue, migraines, headaches that lasted for months, and leg pains so severe that she sometimes couldn’t stand. If her school didn’t allow her a range of flexibility — letting her speak instead of writing the class paper, take a few extra minutes to get to class, use the elevator — she might have lost a semester or more credit, Rankin said.

“Her teacher, her teachers, really helped her with her recovery,” Rankin said.

Use COVID prevention strategies.

The yearning for a “return to normal” after the pandemic is widespread, experts said, but virus prevention strategies remain important, and could play a role in reducing the long-term impact of COVID on schools and the families they serve.

Dr. Parthasarathy urged the districts to redouble their efforts to persuade families to vaccinate themselves and their children. CDC data appears That 3 in 10 children aged 5-11, and 6 in 10 of those aged 12-17, had been fully vaccinated. All children of school age are Eligible to receive the vaccine.

“The best way to not get sick with COVID for a long time is to not get sick with COVID,” he said. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure “.