The ABCs of Back-to-School in the Age of COVID-19

By Lori B. Painter, Lawyer at Metzger Wickersham

August is National Back to School month which typically gears parents, teachers, schools, and students up for a new year of education. It’s usually a time of excitement to get new school supplies and clothes. This year, nothing about school will be typical in the age of COVID-19. Many school districts plan to start the academic year online, and it is unclear when students and teachers will be back in classrooms fulltime. Others plan hybrid models, while some are determined to go five days a week.

Many parents, caregivers, and guardians face new and difficult choices about how their child will return to school in the fall, such as deciding between in-person and virtual learning. According to the Mayo Clinic, being prepared for a variety of schooling environments can empower you and your child and reduce anxiety.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has designed tools to help weigh the risks and benefits of available educational options to help make these decisions. Click here to complete a risk assessment and access decision-making tools for parents and guardians.

As schools reopen, they must balance the educational, social, and emotional needs of their students along with the health and safety of students and staff in the midst of the evolving pandemic. Although there are uncertainties about how school will look this fall, many parents are naturally worried about sending their child back and keeping their child safe against the spread of COVID-19.

While you can’t control the virus itself, you can control the actions that are taken to reduce your child’s risk of getting the infection. To ensure the health and safety of your child, follow these suggestions from Dr. Bruce N. Terrin and Dr. Joseph Fruchter at Hackensack Meridian Health before, during, and after school.

  • Teach your child how to properly wear a mask for long periods of time.
  • Make sure to take your child for a well-visit at the pediatrician before returning to school.
  • Prepare a health toolkit that includes a clean mask, tissues, and hand sanitizer.
  • Pack lunches that your child can open without assistance from teachers or other students.
  • Conduct symptom checks for fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, body aches, headaches, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Teach your child how to properly wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds each time and to refrain from touching their eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible.
  • Children should avoid sharing school supplies such as play toys, pens/pencils, markers and scissors, along with lunch items.
  • Establish an after-school hygiene routine with your child to keep your home as free from germs as possible.
  • Practice cleanliness – have your child remove their shoes upon entering the house. Encourage them to thoroughly wash their hands immediately when they come home, and keep good hygiene by showering regularly. Be sure to wash your child’s clothes after each wear and to clean and/or replace masks regularly as well. If using a cloth, reusable mask, wash and dry after each use.
  • Check-in emotionally – A new school year, with many new obstacles, is certainly stressful and emotionally challenging for kids, especially those who are learning virtually. Be sure to connect with your child each day to see how they are coping with their new norms and what they are experiencing both at school and at home with their learning. Reassure your child that they are doing a great job.

Mask up and follow these recommended steps to help your family stay as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. We at Metzger Wickersham wish you a safe and healthy school year.

For more information on what measures your local schools are taking to reduce the risk of illness, check with your local school district or health agency.

If your child or a member of your family has been diagnosed with COVID-19, please follow CDC’s guidelines and stay at home until the criteria to discontinue home isolation have been met.

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