Remote Schooling Strains Parents and Children, CDC Survey Suggests

Parents whose children received virtual instruction were more likely to report poorer well-being for themselves and their kids, a federal government survey found.

The parents were more likely to report that they were emotionally distressed, concerned about job stability and struggling to balance work and child care if their children were learning virtually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released Thursday.

Some of the parents also reported the mental and emotional health of their children had worsened, while their physical activity had decreased.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence about the harms caused by keeping children out of the classroom. Citing the benefits of in-person learning, federal government and other officials have urged reopening schools, though some teachers and parents harbor safety concerns.

Evidence so far suggests that Covid-19 transmission in schools is minimal if they follow recommended safety precautions. Clusters of cases have occurred when there are lapses in safety protocols.

Learning During Covid-19

“Children not receiving in-person instruction and their parents might experience increased risk for negative mental, emotional, or physical health outcomes,” the report said. “Communitywide actions to reduce Covid-19 incidence and support mitigation strategies in schools are critically important to support students’ return to in-person learning.”

Schools across the country closed their classrooms a year ago to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. Many have yet to reopen, while others provide a mix of in-person and remote learning to reduce the numbers of students in their buildings and reduce the risk of transmission.

The CDC conducted the survey Oct. 8 to Nov. 13. Researchers polled 1,290 adults with a child ages 5 to 12 years enrolled in public or private school. Nearly 31% of the children attended school in person, the parents said, while roughly 46% were fully remote and 23% received a mix of instruction.

Parents with children in public school more often reported that their child received virtual instruction, compared to parents with children in private school. Black, Hispanic and other nonwhite parents more often said that their children were learning virtually, compared with white parents.

A year into the coronavirus pandemic, many schools are only partially open for fear they could fuel the spread of the virus. Experts explain what the actual risks are for spreading Covid-19 in schools and how proper controls can change that equation. Illustration: Preston Jessee for The Wall Street Journal

The survey indicated the pandemic has impacted the well-being of parents and school-age children.

More than 46% of the surveyed parents reported they experienced emotional distress, and more than 38% said they lost some amount of work. Over 14% of parents with children learning remotely reported issues balancing work and child care, compared with just over 8% of parents with children taking classes in person.

Overall, parents reported that more than 12% of children had worse physical health, and 22% of children had worse mental and emotional health, regardless of the mode of learning. Just over half of all parents said their children had decreased physical activity.

“This survey really shows us what pediatricians have been seeing in their offices across the country, which is that the pandemic and virtual learning has put a tremendous strain on families,” said Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Medical Director for Community Health and Advocacy at Children’s National Hospital.

“Safe, in-person learning should be our highest priority for children right now,” Dr. Beers added.

More than half, 54%, of parents whose children were learning remotely reported a lot or a moderate amount of emotional distress.

Roughly a quarter of parents with children learning remotely reported that their children’s mental and emotional health worsened, compared with about 16% of parents whose children were learning in person.

Some 63% of parents with kids learning virtually also said the children were exercising less, while parents with children learning in person reported their kids had reduced physical activity roughly 30% of the time.

Parents with children learning in hybrid models also reported less physical activity, time spent outside and with friends and worse mental and emotional health among their children more often than parents with children learning fully in person.

Those parents, however, were less likely to report that their children had decreased physical activity or time spent outside than parents whose children were fully remote.

Write to Brianna Abbott at brianna.abbott@wsj.com

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