While the holiday break from school was probably received even warmer this year than in years past, the idea of sending your student back to school after the break may make you a little nervous, especially as cases in North Texas continue to surge. While your family may have played it safe this holiday season and followed the CDC recommended guidelines for gathering, you have no way of knowing if other students and their families did as well, and their potential exposure to your student. If you have an older student in college who has to travel back to school, the anxiety may grow even more.
“School districts don’t have the authority [to tell parents to quarantine their children],” says Dan Domenech, the executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association. “And if they did, how would they enforce it? That’s an ability they don’t have. Generally, most parents are very respectful and mindful of what the schools tell them needs to be done. But there will be some that won’t.”
While Texas Health and Human Services has rolled out the “#HealthyTexas” campaign ahead of the holidays to remind families to discourage multi-household gatherings, families are free to make their own decisions for what is right and safe for them.
“Unfortunately, there’s a give and take with students going back to school,” adds David Ko, M.D., a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Plano and Texas Health Family Care in The Colony. “They get to see their friends and be in the environment, but there’s also the possibility that they can come in contact with someone who is positive for COVID-19.”
So, we’ve compiled the following considerations to help your student and your family stay as safe as possible when heading back to school after the holidays.
Many school districts have websites dedicated to their COVID-19 guidelines and protocols in addition to regular communications via social media, email or snail mail to parents. No matter the outlet, it’s important to get informed on your student’s particular school and what they’re doing to keep them and others safe during this time.
Some schools have decided to lengthen their holiday break in order to help combat the spread of the coronavirus due to holiday travel or gatherings, while others have decided to do hybrid learning or remote learning for a period of time after the holidays. Get informed on the plans your school has in place so you can prepare your family and your student.
It’s also important to become well-acquainted with any processes in place to either prevent an outbreak from happening at your student’s school or to mitigate it as quickly as possible. Look for what the plan is if an outbreak happens within your student’s classroom but also within the school itself. Will the school close for some time and require students to quarantine? Use this information to help develop your family’s plan for what to do during periods of quarantine or school closures.
“If the child is to quarantine at home or if schools have to close, it will be helpful to be familiar with the school policies and prepare for virtual learning in case those events occur,” Ko adds. “It’s also a good idea to develop a plan as a family to protect household members who are at increased risk for severe illness, and to consider the option of working from home, taking leave from work, or identifying someone who can supervise their child in the event of school closures or quarantine.”
Information is the most powerful tool you have in getting yourself and your student prepared for this transition. But the next step is to reinforce healthy practices with your student and have open communication with them.
Communicate & Model Expectations
“It is important to communicate and reinforce with your student that safety measures are helpful to protect the health of family members, peers, and students,” says Ko. That holds true for older students, such as high schoolers or college students, who you may have less control over. As with anything their consequences have actions, and COVID-19 is no exception to the rule.
It’s important to have honest, factual and open conversations with your child about COVID-19 and returning to school. The World Health Organization recommends encouraging your children to feel free to ask questions and express their feelings with you and their teachers.
“Remember that your child may have different reactions to stress; be patient and understanding,” they add.
Tailor the depth and breadth of conversations based on your child’s age and maturity level. Reiterate that the same safety guidelines your family has been following throughout the year extend to school as well, even if they have friends or other family members who might be going against recommendations right now.
The old saying “actions speak louder than words” holds true now more than ever. Set a good example for your student by also follow social distancing and other safety protocols yourself. Be a role model for your student as well by practicing self-care and remaining calm. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, eat well and stay socially connected.
You should also get in the habit of a setting up a routine before and after school so healthy habits feel like second nature to them, such as packing a back-up face mask and hand sanitizer in the morning and washing their hands as soon as they come home. Additionally, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces can help reduce the risk of illness, so make sure you add this to your routine.
What to Do if Your Child is Exposed to COVID-19
You should monitor your child each day for signs of COVID-19, even if their school performs daily temperature readings as a part of symptom screening. These include:
- Nasal congestion or runny nose
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle aches
- Nausea or vomiting
- Poor appetite
- New loss of taste or smell
- Belly pain
- Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
To limit the spread of COVID-19 as well as other germs, your student should stay home from school and other activities if they have any signs of illness or a fever, and you should contact their pediatrician or health care provider for next steps. You should also connect with their teacher or the school to understand their absence or make-up work policies right now to ensure they have the opportunity to either continue their education remotely during this time or that they can make-up for missed school work when they are feeling better.
Continue to Stay informed and Connected
Situations can change rapidly, so make sure you’re monitoring emails or communications from your student’s school to stay up to date on safety protocol changes and potential changes to school schedules. Also stay connected to your child’s teacher, check in with your child frequently to see how they are coping with school and if you need to reinforce any additional structure or learning at home.
While this year’s transition back to school is different, we can help children feel optimistic by listening to and validating their worries, teaching them coping strategies, reviewing safety protocols and supporting them when they find things difficult.
What Else Should I Know?
Following these steps can help you feel assured that your child is as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have college student who has to travel a long distance back to school, Ko adds that getting a COVID-19 test after returning to campus can also be helpful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 to others, such as their roommates or friends.
“The safest option would be to avoid contact with their friends for 14 days, but the more realistic choice would be to continue wearing masks, hand washing, social distancing, and getting tested,” he says.
Because the coronavirus pandemic continues to change, it’s important to be flexible. Follow your school’s guidelines and be ready to make adjustments.