For some students, going back to school could be deadly.

Rebecca Tabor is one. Three years ago, she had a heart transplant and takes medication that suppresses her immune system to keep her body from rejecting it. So when the University of Louisiana at Lafayette brought students back to campus this month, she concluded going back was too big a risk. Instead, she’ll take classes virtually from her parents’ home. For exams, though, she’ll still have to commute to campus, over two hours away.

Tabor is a senior and needs to take a science lab to graduate. That, along with any semblance of a normal 21-year-old’s life, will have to wait. A school spokesperson said it’s up to students with special needs to work out accommodations with professors or, if that doesn't work, contact administrators.

“I’ve had to do a lot of work to make sure everything is both safe and feasible for me to accomplish,” Tabor said.

Relatively little is known about how Covid-19 affects young people: research indicates that a small percentage may suffer long-term symptoms after infection. Advocates of reopening say that places like Northern Europe where classrooms never closed or opened with few problems show that the young are less likely to transmit the virus or get seriously ill. But teachers in many states have pushed back on efforts to refill classrooms, saying protective measures are inadequate. Those with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to Covid-19 see school as just one more way the pandemic has upended their lives.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated guidance to recommend schools offer remote work or learning opportunities for anyone at higher risk due to other health conditions.

“Everyone's constraints are really different,” said Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University who has studied school reopenings. “We're all kind of facing a lot of choices, which we basically have no idea how to make.”

The concern has heightened as outbreaks force more schools to revert to remote learning. And for many like Tabor, even a small risk is a massive gamble.

Dave Kitzinger is a 64-year-old heart transplant recipient. His 15-year-old son “desperately wants” to go back when his suburban Pittsburgh high school reopens, but they’re worried. The district voted last week to stay on-line for the first nine weeks of the semester, though, giving them more time to consider the options.

“He wants to see his friends. He wants to be back in that environment. But he’s concerned he’s going to go and bring something home,” Kitzinger said. When contacted for comment, the superintendent said that anyone uncomfortable with in-person instruction will have a virtual option. Kitzinger said, though, that he feels going back remotely would be hard on his son. “It’s a crummy position to be in. I'm so concerned about him losing such a big part of his early adulthood.”

Shauna Perry works with immune-compromised patients in Maine as a nurse. Her husband recently received a transplant that resulted in complications, prompting them to rethink what to do as their daughter starts kindergarten. They needed a creative plan that lets Perry work without risking her husband’s or patients’ health. So their daughter will stream kindergarten classes from her preschool, which has just a few kids.

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