Many children went through the entire 2020-21 school year without attending class in person. When children do not go to school in person, they miss out on not only face-to-face instruction but also meals, speech therapy, after-school programs, and more. In addition, not all students have adequate electronics, internet access, or adult supervision at home. The transition to virtual learning was difficult for almost all students and parents, but it may have had particularly large impacts for minorities, socially and economically disadvantaged children, and children with developmental disabilities or health problems.
In many school districts, parents of Black and Latino children were less likely to send their children back to school even when they had the option. Black and Latino communities were particularly affected by the pandemic, and parents may not have felt safe sending children into schools. In addition, access to vaccines was a problem for many in the spring of 2021.
Offering safe in-person school in the 2021-22 school year will help ensure that children in underserved groups do not fall farther behind. NIH’s RADx℠ Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program aims to increase COVID-19 testing for vulnerable and underresourced populations. Now RADx-UP is funding projects across the country to learn what role COVID-19 testing can play in safely returning students, teachers, and other staff to schools. For example, testing could identify asymptomatic infections or shorten quarantine times for people who have been exposed to COVID-19.
The new projects are part of the Safe Return to School Diagnostic Testing Initiative, which includes studies in a variety of schools and communities, with a variety of testing approaches. These projects will build evidence that school administrators can use to make sure all children are able to return to school safely and stay there. The initiative is managed by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).