August = Back to School
July 30, 2021
Back to School Month has been observed in August since the 1960s to help parents, students, and teachers prepare for a new academic year. In addition to shopping for back-to-school supplies, backpacks, and clothes during the month, parents also will need to address how the coming academic year could look different, especially if their children attended virtual classes exclusively during the 2020-2021 school year.
In reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, physical arrangements in schools could result in the placement of desks far apart from one another, maintenance of physical distance by teachers and students, the possibility of students and teachers staying in their classrooms for lunch, and the wearing of face masks.
COVID-19 also can affect children and young people socially, emotionally, and mentally. These issues also need to be addressed when students return in person to school.
COVID-19 Prevention in Schools
To help students return to school in person, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools, that includes the following key takeaways.
- Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.
- Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.
- Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated. Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
- CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking.
- Screening testing, ventilation, handwashing, and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are also important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.
- Students, teachers, and staff should stay home when they have signs of any infectious illness and be referred to their healthcare provider for testing and care.
- Many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not currently eligible for vaccination. Therefore, this guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies to protect people who are not fully vaccinated, including students, teachers, staff, and other members of their households.
- COVID-19 prevention strategies remain critical to protect people, including students, teachers, and staff, who are not fully vaccinated, especially in areas of moderate-to-high community transmission levels.
- Localities should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies.
COVID-19 Stress and Coping
According to the Child Mind Institute, “Children who are heading back to the classroom this fall are facing unusual challenges, and one of them is anxiety about being separated from their families after months of togetherness. For some kids it will trigger separation anxiety, in addition to the anxiety they may feel about leaving their safe harbor from the pandemic.”
“Kids are just really used to being home with their parents now,” notes Jennifer Louie, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. Even kids who had comfortably adjusted to being in school before the pandemic are finding it stressful to be separated now. And, she adds, “there is the added fear that other people are not as safe as we thought they were.”
For some children, the excitement of going back to school after so many months stuck at home will outweigh potential anxiety, Dr. Louie notes. “But I think the kids who already have anxiety are more prone to being more anxious going back.”
So, parents have a complicated mission dealing with all this anxiety and uncertainty: reassuring children that it’s safe to be away from them, while also encouraging them to be careful and preparing them to be flexible in case the situation changes. How do you do that? Here are some pointers from the Child Mind Institute.
- Validate their feelings: Parents should stay calm and positive. If your child lets you know that he’s worried or is having negative feelings about going back to school, reassure him that his feelings are normal. The knowledge that he is not alone in this experience will help your child feel he’s being heard and understood. Kids appreciate knowing what you’re doing to manage the situation and are willing to work together to ask and answer questions that can help them stay calm.
- Set the tone: Try to keep your own anxiety at bay so you don’t fuel your child’s apprehensiveness about returning to school in person. If your child has questions that you can’t answer, work together to find guidance from school or medical authorities.
- Help them think positively: Try to help your children focus on positive features about returning to school. What are they looking forward to? What do they hope they will enjoy each day at school with their friends and favorite teachers?
- Practice separation: For children who are anxious about being apart, experts suggest practicing separation, starting in small ways and building tolerance for more independence. Encourage your children to play independently and not rely on the constant presence of a parent.
- Have a routine: Making sure that your child has a predictable routine leading up to school can help kids, especially younger ones, feel more secure. Before the school bell rings on the first day of school, your children can practice getting up early and participating in morning routines, discussing homework expectations, and adhering to bedtime rituals.
- Emphasize safety measures: Review with your child the measures that her school has taken to put safety rules in place to minimize risk and keep everyone safe.
- Encourage flexibility: Since there is a possibility that children who start school in person may be expected to switch back to remote learning, at least for some periods of time, it’s helpful for kids to know that you’re prepared for changes that may occur.
Going back to school this year will have a new set of challenges when students return in person to campuses nationwide. Parents should review the safety rules and regulations for their children’s specific school and actively participate in keeping everyone safe.
At insureyouknow.org, you can keep your family’s COVID-19 vaccination records, immunization documentation, and lists of prescriptions in a safe place.