Back to School Planning - A Guide for Parents Guardians and Caregivers

News & Updates , Featured , Connecting September 25th, 2020

(Adapted from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/parent-checklist.html)

For many families, back to school looks different this year than it has in previous years. Your school will have new policies in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. You may also be starting the school year with virtual learning components. Whatever the situation, these checklists are intended to help parents, guardians, and caregivers, plan and prepare for the upcoming school year.

Some of the changes in schools’ classroom attendance or structure may include:

Cohorts:
Dividing students and teachers into distinct groups that stay together throughout an entire school day during in-person classroom instruction. Schools may allow minimal or no interaction between cohorts (also sometimes referred to as pods).

Hybrid:
A mix of virtual learning and in-class learning. Hybrid options can apply a cohort approach to the in-class education provided.

Virtual/at-home only:
Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events.

PLANNING FOR IN-PERSON CLASSES:

Going back to school this fall will require schools and families to work together even more than before. Schools will be making changes to their policies and operations with several goals: supporting learning; providing important services, such as school meals, extended daycare, extracurricular activities, and social services; and limiting the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Teachers and staff can teach and encourage preventive behaviors at school. Likewise, it will be important for families to emphasize and model healthy behaviors at home and to talk to your children about changes to expect this school year. Even if your child will attend school in-person, it is important to prepare for the possibility of virtual learning if school closes or if your child becomes exposed to COVID-19 and needs to stay home.

Actions to take and points to consider:

  • Check in with your child each morning for signs of illness. If your child has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, they should not go to school.
  • If your child has had close contact to a COVID-19 case, they should not go to school.
  • Identify your school point person(s) to contact if your child gets sick.
  • Be familiar with local COVID-19 testing sites in the event you or your child develops symptoms.
  • Make sure your child is up-to-date with all recommended vaccines, including for flu. This is especially important this year because we do not yet know if being sick with COVID-19 at the same time as the flu will result in more severe illness.
  • Be familiar with how your school will make water available during the day. Consider packing a water bottle.
  • Develop daily routines before and after school—for example, things to pack for school in the morning (like hand sanitizer and an additional (back up) mask) and things to do when you return home (like washing hands immediately and washing masks).
  • Talk to your child about precautions to take at school. Children may be advised to:
    • Wash and sanitize their hands more often.
    • Keep physical distance from other students.
    • Wear a mask.
    • Avoid sharing objects with other students, including water bottles, devices, writing instruments, and books
    • Use hand sanitizer (that contains at least 60% alcohol.) Make sure you’re using a safe product. FDA recalled products that contain toxic methanol. (For complete list see http://bit.ly/FDAhandsanitizerrecalls.)
  • Make sure your information is current at school, including emergency contacts and individuals authorized to pick up your child(ren) from school.
  • Be familiar with your school’s plan for how they will communicate with families when a positive case or exposure to someone with COVID-19 is identified and ensure student privacy is upheld.
  • Plan for possible school closures or periods of quarantine
  • Plan for transportation:
    • If your child rides a bus, plan for your child to wear a mask on the bus and talk to your child about the importance of following bus rules and any spaced seating rules.
    • If carpooling, plan on every child in the carpool and the driver wearing masks for the entire trip. If your school uses the cohort model, consider finding families within your child’s group/cohort at school to be part of the carpool.
  • If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan or receives other learning support (e.g., tutoring), ask your school how these services will continue.
  • If your school uses a cohorting model, consider limiting your child’s in-person out-of-school interactions to children in the same cohort or to activities where physical distancing can be maintained.
  • Talk to your school administrators and teachers about their plans for physical education and physical activity (e.g., recess).
  • Ask how your school plans to help ensure that students are following practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

PLANNING FOR VIRTUAL OR AT-HOME LEARNING

Virtual learning may be a choice or part of a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan for some children and families, and it may be necessary if your child has certain underlying health conditions or is immunocompromised. In a hybrid model, learning may occur virtually during part of the week and occur in-person for the rest. Or, the school year may start with virtual learning but switch to in-person learning for the remainder or certain times of the school year. Going back to school virtually may pose additional challenges with staying connected to peers, since students may have less frequent or no in-person interactions to each other.

Actions to take and points to consider:

  • Find out if there will be regular and consistent opportunities during each day for staff and student check-ins and peer-to-peer learning.
  • Find out if students have regular opportunities for live video instruction by teachers or if they will primarily be watching pre-recorded videos and receive accompanying assignments.
  • Ask if the school will offer virtual or socially distanced physical activity. If not, identify ways to add physical activity to your child’s daily routine.
  • If your child participates in school meal programs, identify how your school district plans to make meals available to students who are learning virtually at home.
  • If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan or receives other learning support (e.g., tutoring), ask your school how these services will continue during virtual at-home learning.
  • If you anticipate having technological barriers to learning from home, ask if your school or community can provide support or assistance for students without appropriate electronic devices for schoolwork (like a computer/laptop or tablet).
  • If your school offers a hybrid model, be familiar with your school’s plan for how they will communicate with families when a positive case or exposure to someone with COVID-19 is identified and ensure student privacy is upheld.

MENTAL HEALTH & SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS:
Since the school experience will be very different from before, it is unlike anything your child is used to. Talk to your child and explain that all these steps are being taken to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Actions to take and points to consider:

  • If they're attending in person, Talk with your child about how school will look different (e.g., desks far apart from each other, teachers maintaining physical distance, possibility of staying in the classroom for lunch).
  • Talk with your child about how school is going and about interactions with classmates and teachers. Find out how your child is feeling and communicate that what they may be feeling is normal.
  • Anticipate behavior changes in your child. Watch for changes like excessive crying or irritation, excessive worry or sadness, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, difficulty concentrating, which may be signs of your child struggling with stress and anxiety.
  • Try to attend school activities and meetings. Schools may offer more of these virtually. A
  • Ask your school about plans to support school connectedness to ensure students do not become socially isolated during extended periods of virtual/at-home learning.
  • Ask your school about any plans to reduce potential stigma related to having or being suspected of having COVID-19.
  • Check if your school has any systems in place to identify and provide mental health services to students in need of support.
  • Check if your school has a plan to help students adjust to how COVID-19 has disrupted their daily life. Support may include school counseling and psychological services (including grief counseling), social-emotional learning (SEL)-focused programs and curricula, and peer/social support groups.
  • You can be a role model for your child by practicing self-care:
    • Take breaks
    • Get plenty of sleep
    • Exercise
    • Eat well
    • Stay socially connected

RESOURCES TO NAVIGATE STRESS AND UNCERTAINTY

CDC Stress and Coping During the COVID-19 Pandemic

CDC Parent Portal

CDC Children’s Mental Health

Bullying Prevention Resources

Children and Youth with Special Healthcare Needs in Emergencies

Resources for Helping Kids and Parents Cope Amidst COVID-19