For many families, back to school planning will look 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.
- 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. Make sure your child does not have a sore throat or other signs of illness, like a cough, diarrhea, severe headache, vomiting, or body aches
- Make sure your child is up-to-date with all recommended vaccines, including for flu. All school-aged children should get an influenza flu vaccine every season, with rare exceptions. 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.
- Review and practice proper hand washing techniques at home, especially before and after eating, sneezing, coughing, and adjusting a cloth face covering or mask. Make hand washing fun and explain to your child why it’s important.
- 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) cloth face covering) and things to do when you return home (like washing hands immediately and washing worn cloth face coverings).
- 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 cloth face covering.
- 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. Monitor how they feel and tell an adult if they are not feeling well.
- Plan for possible school closures or periods of quarantine. If transmission is increasing in your community or if multiple children or staff test positive for COVID-19, the school building might close. Similarly, if a close contact of your child (within or outside of school) tests positive for COVID-19, your child may need to stay home for a 2-week quarantine period. You may need to consider the feasibility of teleworking, taking leave from work, or identifying someone who can supervise your child in the event of school building closures or quarantine.
- Have multiple cloth face coverings, so you can wash them daily and have back-ups ready. Choose cloth face coverings that ◦ Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face ◦ Completely cover the nose and mouth ◦ Are secured with ties or ear loops ◦ Include multiple layers of fabric ◦ Allow for breathing without restriction ◦ Can be washed and machine dried without damage or change to shape
Planning for virtual or at-home learningVirtual 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. You may want to talk to school staff to learn more about what they are doing to support connection among students, interactive learning with feedback, building resilience, and social-emotional wellbeing for students who will not be onsite. In addition, if your child receives speech, occupational, or physical therapy or other related services from the school, ask your school how these services will continue during virtual at-home learning. Likewise, if your child receives mental health or behavioral services (e.g., social skills training, counseling), ask your school how these services will continue during virtual at-home learning.
- Create a schedule with your child and make a commitment to stick with it. Structure and routine can greatly help your child from falling behind with assignments. Discuss your family’s schedule and identify the best times for learning and instruction, as well as family-oriented physical activity, such as walks outside. A family calendar or other visuals could be useful for keeping track of deadlines and assignments.
- Try to find a space where you live that’s free of distractions, noise, and clutter for learning and doing homework. This could be a quiet, well-lit place in your dining room or living room or a corner of your home that could fit a small table, if available.
- 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).
- 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.
- Check if school has a plan to help students adjust to virtual/at-home learning and more broadly, to the ways COVID-19 may have disrupted their daily life. Supports may include school counseling and psychological services, 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
- Eat well
- Stay socially connected