There are many situations that come into play when you’re considering in-person or virtual learning this year for your student. While those situations are specific and unique to you and your family, everyone can agree that the health and safety of our children is the ultimate goal.
If you’re wondering if it’s safe to send your student back to the classroom this fall, here are some things to keep in mind when you’re looking over their school’s plan for reopening.
Riding the bus
Look for: Limited capacity, physical distancing and the required use of masks
If your student will need to ride the bus to and from school, look for guidelines that call for decreased capacity on buses, physical distancing, and mandatory masks.
Look for: Clear policies requiring sick kids and teachers to stay home
There should be a clear message that staff and kids must stay home if they have any symptoms of COVID-19. Check to see if your school is enforcing temperature checks or symptom screenings either by the parent or someone at the entrance of the school. The CDC currently does not recommend schools conduct widespread symptom screenings. Instead, it suggests parents check their children at home before coming to school to avoid exposure.
Masking/face shield policies
Look for: Consistent, mandatory mask/face shield usage for kids and adults
In addition to your typical school supplies, masks may be a required supply on your child’s list this year. Depending on the school and the age of the children, some children may not be required to wear a mask at all, while others may be required to wear a mask part of the time or the entire time they are at school. In addition, some schools may allow face shields, especially for young children or anyone with a health condition that makes it harder to breathe while wearing a mask.
Social distancing and cohorts
Look for: 6 feet between desks, small class sizes
Ideally, desks need to be placed at least 6 feet apart, whether plexiglass is placed between them or not. Some schools are considering hybrid schedules that allow for smaller class sizes or “cohorts” or moving traditional classes into larger rooms like auditoriums or gyms.
What to do when someone gets sick
Look for: Requirement for anyone with symptoms to self-isolate — and collaboration with the local health department
Schools need to have a plan in place for what to do when students or staff develop symptoms during the school day.
Some schools require an evaluation by a doctor before you can come back to school, while others don’t. No matter the policy, anyone with symptoms should stay home for at least 10 days after symptoms start. Also look to see if your school has a protocol in place alerting families that their student may have been exposed.
Look for: Focus on hand hygiene and cleaning high-touch surfaces
To promote hand hygiene, schools should have sanitizer dispensers in classrooms and hallways, and should keep bathrooms well-stocked with paper towels and soap.
Even though the CDC says that COVID-19 is most commonly spread through droplets that are released when we cough, sneeze or talk, the virus can live on surfaces for hours and possibly days. Schools should have a plan in place to frequently clean high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs or stair railings throughout the day.
Lunch and snack
Look for: Staggered cafeteria times or in-classroom dining
Because eating requires us to remove our face masks, social distancing is the key here.
Look for plans to stagger lunch and/or snack times to allow for less students in the cafeteria at one time, no matter if they are eating in their classrooms or the cafeteria.
Recess, gym and sports
Look for: Outdoor recess in small supervised groups and no-contact sports
At the end of the day, we all want our kids to be kids, which is why some have argued against protocols that may stand in the way of that, such as wearing masks, social distancing and virtual learning. Kids need to run, play and take breaks, and outdoor time is less risky than indoor time. Most playgrounds are large and can allow for students to socially distance and take off their masks.
Look for the staggering of recess times and smaller recess groups to help achieve that. Also look for protocols that state children and staff should wash their hands immediately upon entering the building from recess.
Look for these same protocols when it comes to gym class and sports. Games should be played outside as often as possible and spaced out. Also look for alternatives for when weather doesn’t allow for outside play.