Tag Archives: JAMA

Re-Opening Schools Experts (ROSE) Task Force


.                                                  Updated 7-31-2020  


Both the argument and the process for re-opening schools are multi-faceted and they cross a range of development stagesChildhood trauma damage looms in all directions.  The historic decisions should be based on science and data, addressing the many  complex and competing risks.  


The laissez-faire approach in the USA to a national attack on Covid-19 now threatens to dismiss the growing data about the nation-wide dangers and trauma-inducing experiences of when and how to re-open schools.

School re-opening guidelines should be developed by experts, trauma-informed experts, across  an array of domains.  The weighty, strategic decisions and  their implementation approaches would be tackled most effectively by a multi-faceted team of national, or even international, authorities.


A “Re- Opening Schools Experts” task force  (ROSE task force) could demonstrate how our nation values children and prioritizes their health.  Conversely a more cavalier approach could have states and districts competing again for scarce resources, and worse; lacking knowledge, making a patchwork of decisions on whim and hearsay and emotion.

Meanwhile, our “good ole school days” memories are only memories.  “School” that we knew as a “a safe place” where children “need” to be is a dangerous, outdated paradigm.

Covid-19 changes everything that many mistakenly “romanticize” about school; socially, emotionally, psychologically, neurobiologically and pedagogically. 

Developmental Trauma and especially Polyvagal Theory provide an understanding of the biology of safety, trust and danger.

For our “youngest, most vulnerable” students especially, school will be a source of trauma.  The much-touted school-building-experience will not be “face-to-face” but “mask to mask” (with strangers). A big and intimidating difference for 5, 6, 7 year-olds.

That’s the new paradigm.

Classrooms will not include socialization, only social distancing and ‘social policing’.  No hugs, or even touch, for frightened children. Touch must be replaced by ‘hands up’ or away, behind shields, inside plastic cells, with temperature guns at foreheads. A menacing,  factory-like environment for our “youngest, most vulnerable”.

Trauma theory incorporates facial muscles and the ability to make communicative facial expressions (Not seen behind masks).  It addresses the larynx, vocal tone and vocal patterning, helping humans create sounds that soothe one another (Not heard behind masks).

Trauma theory explains why knowing that we are seen and heard can make us feel calm and safe, and why being ignored or dismissed can precipitate hypervigilance, rage reactions and mental collapse (Bessel van der Kolk).

Ready for Rage?… from our least socialized, “youngest, and most vulnerable”.

That’s the new paradigm.

We need to start every conversation with “our old school paradigm” doesn’t exist now

Traumatic experiences related to Covid-19 and schools have been and will continue   threatening  children with many, and even conflicting, experiences and triggers including:
  • “distancing” fears —  “distancing”. which should be physical distancing, but not “social” (Bruce Perry, Bessel van der Kolk and many more).
  • gathering in large groups:  many schools with over one thousand children and school cafeterias which seat many more people than the largest restaurants
  • gathering in tight quarters (thirty  children in many urban classrooms): Equity
  • sharing hallways and bathrooms between hundreds of children
  • exposure to daily (or more frequent) medical screening protocols and medical “safety” procedures, which in themselves will be intimidating and even scary
  • compounding of other mental health challenges including depression and anxiety
  • socially, relationally  isolating at home
  • academically relationally isolating at home
  • staying home, exposed to family dysfunction and or “silently” enduring child abuse
  • studying at home without appropriate, human academic supports and resources:  Equity
  • staying home impact on family rhythms, employment and income
  • limited, uneven material resources such as hardware and software technology and internet access (and reliability) at home:  Equity
  • more

 — a lengthy, complex set of conflicting constraints and goals —


Reopening schools should be the purview of experts, only.
Politicians and school administrators are way too under-resourced to confront these dangerous decisions alone.
Safety, effectiveness and efficiency will require more than general knowledge of two or three people who are accessible locally:
  • School Counselors who are trauma-informed
  • School Nurses who are trauma-informed
  • School or Child psychologists who are trauma-informed
  • Child and adolescent psychiatrists who are trauma-informed
  • Building Principals who are trauma-informed
  • Classroom teachers (multiple) from across all developmental stages who are also trauma-informed.  Teachers must feel safe too.  Students can sense it.
  • School Social workers who are trauma-informed
  • School Maintenance Engineers who are trauma-informed
  • Pediatricians who are trauma-informed
  • Immunologists
  • Virologists
  • Educational Academicians who are trauma-informed
  • School District Superintendents who are trauma-informed
  • Local government officials
  • Epidemiologists
  • Urban, suburban and rural issues representatives
  • Parents.  As a critical, necessary (but not sufficient) first step,  parents must believe that their schools are safe place.  Parents help regulate their children.
  • Students.  In the end, it will not be enough that adult experts declare schools “safe”.  In the final, trauma-informed analysis, each child in their own body, brainstem, limbic system and HPA axis, must feel safe.  They must be part of the task force.  If the children don’t feel safe, it is all for naught.
  • More

school, classroom, with, empty, desks

Further:   decisions, strategies and implementation approaches will be very distinct in a planning “matrix”,  which clearly addresses the complexities and the conflicts by development stages.
There is no one-size-fits-all re-opening strategy developmentally. 
FLickr Photo by Enrica Chesi-Beasley

Wise, informed approaches will be different, possibly dramatically different, in early childhood stages, versus primary years, versus middle years, versus high school;  that is K-2 versus grades 3-5, versus grades 6-8, versus grades 9-12.

It would not be efficient or logical  for fifty states to make fifty different determinations on the same experiences for the same wide range of different developmental stages across thousands of school districts.


Join us in a grass roots call for an expert task force to map out strategies and guidelines to re-open schools (Re-Open Schools Experts:  ROSE task force). 

Call or text your representatives in Washington, D.C. today.  Ask for a ROSE task force.



As background, JAMA Pediatrics leads the charge, publishing a very powerful Editorial on-line (in interest of urgency), Wednesday,  May 13 and then NPR broadcast a related discussion with a similar outcome, Thursday May 14.  Excerpts and Links are below:

Excerpts from JAMA Pediatrics:

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

…[given the current void] “To help inform states and counties that are struggling to make this enormously consequential and urgent decision regarding the fall semester, an expert task force focusing exclusively on school closure should be convened immediately. “

“This panel should include epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, educational scientists, and child psychologists, among others. They should review the state of the evidence regarding horizontal transmission among children and their families [and teachers and staff] , as well as what is known about the feasibility of distance learning and the psychological implications of children continuing to stay at home. Their recommendations should be developmentally framed, taking into account children’s varying needs and cognitive abilities;  kindergarten is not the same as high school.”  —  emphasis added —

Link to full JAMA Pediatrics Editorial HERE:



Excerpts from NPR broadcast:

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The social-emotional needs of children to connect with other children in real time and space, whether it’s for physical activity, unstructured play or structured play, this is immensely important for young children in particular.” A new study in JAMA Pediatrics, documents elevated depression and anxiety among children under lockdown in China.”

“…[another] major risk… is child abuse. With schools closed and activities canceled, adults who are mandatory reporters, such as teachers, are less likely to catch wind of abuse or neglect. Hospitals around the country are reporting a rise in admissions for severe child abuse injuries and even deaths — a rise that coincides with lockdown orders. And a sex-abuse hotline operated by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network [RAINN] reported that half its calls in March came from minors, for the first time in its history.”

“…[and further] doubtful that schools, especially in big cities, can reliably enforce social distancing to reduce the number of contacts. “It’s very difficult to explain to children that they shouldn’t stay with their friends or talk with them or be close to each other.”

“… [four or five very different and conflicting threats, above, varying by developmental stage] are exactly why experts from different backgrounds need to be consulted, so that the risks of reopening schools can be properly balanced with the risks of keeping them closed.

“If we declared the meat supply a national emergency, we should do the same with the brain supply.

Link to the complete NPR interview HERE:



Again:   Join us in a grass roots call for an expert task force to map out strategies and guidelines to re-open schools (Re-Open Schools Experts:  ROSE task force). 

Call or text your representatives in Washington, D.C. today.   Ask for a ROSE task force.