In-person learning is not only important for children and teens, it is absolutely vital. Schools are not just places where children learn; they are safe spaces that support their mental, social, physical and emotional health.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, things got complicated. Some schools have remained open, while others have taken a hybrid approach to education with a mix of in-person and distance learning.
Experts agree the kids should go back to school this year, but parents have understandable concerns. So what are schools doing to keep students safe during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The reassuring answer is that schools follow public health guidelines for safety. Let’s take a look at what schools are doing to keep your child safe.
Tests and screening
Screening is one way to identify people infected with COVID-19, whether or not they have visible symptoms. By identifying students who might be contagious before they start showing symptoms, the chances of the virus spreading are reduced. Teachers and staff who are not vaccinated should also be screened.
Screening is generally offered to unvaccinated students. This is integral to slowing the spread of COVID-19 when the number of cases within the surrounding community is high. Screening is a valuable tool for schools that cannot facilitate maximum physical distance between students as it provides another layer of protection.
Screening must take place at least once a week to be effective, and results must be reported within 24 hours.
If a student or staff member is showing symptoms of COVID-19 or has been recently exposed to the virus, diagnostic testing of samples collected by DNA saliva collection kits should be performed immediately.
All students should follow physical distancing recommendations, including those who have been vaccinated.
CDC guidelines recommend that all students maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet from everyone else in the class. The CDC’s general recommendation for people who don’t live in the same household is a physical distance of at least 6 feet.
The difference is explained by studies on the transmission of COVID-19 among students in 2020-2021, which show that the rate of transmission among students who stayed within 6 feet of each other was very low – provided the school applies other COVID-19 safety measures.
In addition to other safety protocols such as masks, schools should use outdoor spaces where possible, especially for activities such as exercise, singing, and group.
Wearing a face mask is a proven way to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to people who cannot get vaccinated or who are immunocompromised.
Fully vaccinated people can still get COVID-19 and infect others – which is why anyone over the age of two should wear a face mask that covers their mouth and nose.
The latest variants of the virus, Delta and Delta Plus, are much more contagious than the previous variants and lead to more serious complications. Although COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of serious illness and death, wearing a mask is still the best way to avoid passing it on to others.
Masks should be worn consistently and they should fit snugly. Most children will have no problem wearing a face mask if their parents encourage them, support them, and lead by example. If your child has a developmental disorder that may interfere with the use of the mask, see your pediatrician.
Vaccines against covid-19
As recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, all children five years and older should receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and all adults and children should be fully immunized as soon as possible.
If your child has already contracted COVID-19 and has recovered, they should still receive the vaccine, unless they have an illness that makes them ineligible.
Although children are less affected by COVID-19 than adults, schools should still ensure that measures are in place to prevent the spread in the event of exposure.
If a student or staff member has recently had close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, they should follow the recommendation of local public health authorities to self-quarantine unless they are vaccinated. .
People who have been exposed to COVID-19 and are fully vaccinated should get tested 5 to 7 days after being exposed, whether or not they show symptoms of infection.
In addition to following prescribed COVID-19 safety protocols, there are several other factors that schools should consider.
High risk students
In the case of children with chronic or high-risk health conditions, other special precautions may need to be taken.
If your child already has a health problem that puts them at risk if they contract COVID-19, discuss it with their school and a healthcare professional. You may need to consider additional accommodations for added security or a combination of distance and in-person learning.
Students with disabilities
Students with disabilities may have difficulty returning to in-person learning at school. This could be due to lack of time, limited access to services at school such as speech therapy, mental health support counseling or occupational therapy.
All schools should adopt an individualized educational program and consider the individual needs of each child – these services can also be provided virtually.
Emotional and behavioral support
Your child’s school should be equipped and prepared to meet the mental health needs of each child throughout the pandemic.
During this period, more than 140,000 children have lost a primary or secondary guardian – the school should be able to recognize the signs of distress, depression and anxiety and help their students get the support they need and to provide appropriate advice.
Extracurricular activities like sporting events, practice and the like may be limited. If a school offers physical and extracurricular activities, it must follow additional safety protocols.
Until June 2022, all schools can provide free meals to all students, regardless of their household income. Many schools provide nutritious meals through school meal programs – you can contact your school district for more information.
These meal programs should still be applicable if a student is absent due to illness or if schools are closed.
If schools, families and community members work together to ensure their mutual safety, students can resume learning in person.
To ensure children receive the social and mental stimulation they need in school, everyone eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine should receive it. Staying safe also means that everyone should wear a face mask, stay home when they are sick, and do whatever they can to protect those around them.