Ready for In-Person School? 12 Safety Tips for Parents

While most people yearn for a return to a pre-pandemic “normal,” are you ready to send your child back to in-person school? For many families, that’s a complicated question. Preparing in advance can help.

While most people yearn for a return to a pre-pandemic “normal,” are you ready to send your child back to in-person school?

For many families, that’s a complicated question. Preparing can help.
Public schools in Miami-Dade County began phasing in their face-to-face classes the first week of October, and Broward’s public schools planned to follow shortly after that. Palm Beach County reopened its schools on September 21. Most private schools also have reopened, or are planning to do so.

Most South Florida parents have the option to continue virtual schooling or to send their children to live classes. So how do you decide, and what can you do to keep your family safe from COVID-19 when you do send your child back?

It’s important to proceed with caution, says Samer Fahmy, M.D., chief medical officer at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. “We have made progress in getting case numbers and infection rates down, and the reopening of schools is a sign of that,” he says. “But just as important as reopening, we want schools to stay open. You still need to social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, don’t touch your face – all these simple things make a difference.”

While many families are eager to return to regular school, it might not be right for everyone, says Deepa Sharma, D.O., a primary care physician with the Family Medicine Center at West Kendall Baptist Hospital.

“It’s important to assess your family’s risk,” says Dr. Sharma, a faculty member for the hospital’s Family Medicine Residency Program, in partnership with Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.

Things to consider: Do you or your child have health factors such as obesity, severe breathing problems, or diabetes that put you at a higher risk of suffering severe consequences from the virus? Do you have a multi-generational household and need to protect an older, more vulnerable relative from exposure? Is your child likely to comply with school rules regarding mask-wearing and physical distancing?

“It also depends on what steps the school is taking to protect students and teachers,” Dr. Sharma adds. “Ask your school, what is the plan? Asking questions is the only way you will be to decide what is best for your family.”

As you weigh different factors, be sure to get your information from reliable and reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Florida Department of Health, Dr. Sharma says.

She also advises families to seek guidance from their family physician or pediatrician. “It’s perfectly OK to make an appointment for a consultation to discuss your concerns,” she says. “We are in an unprecedented time, and that can be very unsettling.”

Whether you send your children back to school immediately or wait a while, changes in the classroom might be confusing to children, especially elementary students. It’s important to begin preparing them now by teaching them to take some responsibility for their own safety, experts say.

Here are some tips for a return to the classroom from Baptist Health physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association of School Psychologists and CDC.

Start training for the new reality at school. Help your child get used to wearing a mask for long periods. Even at home, build up their mask tolerance by slowly increasing the length of time children wear one. By the time kids return to the classroom, wearing a mask will feel more natural, which will help with the adjustment.

Double (and maybe triple) up. Send your child to school with more than one face covering, in case one gets lost or dirty. Label the masks so they are not confused with another child’s. (Bonus: if you mark the masks on the outside, it will help the teacher learn your child’s name and recognize him or her more quickly.) Provide your child with a sealable plastic baggie to store their soiled mask.

Pick a good mask. Fabric masks are popular with families because they come in so many fun patterns. Allowing children to pick their own style may help improve compliance, especially if they are excited about something that reflects their personality. Make sure your masks have at least two layers of fabric, with a snug fit across the bridge of the nose, across the cheeks and around the jawline (or under the chin). Avoid masks that fit too loosely, as well as those with an exhalation valve. Wash daily.

Coach caution. Talk to your children about the importance of physical distancing and remind them not to share food, drinks, electronics, classroom supplies or other items. Although they may be glad to see their friends, this is not the time for hugs or high-fives. Be a good role model— if the adults in your child’s life wash their hands often, stay at least six feet apart from others and wear their mask in public spaces, then children are more likely to do the same.

Stop the spread. Keep your child home if he or she shows any sign of illness. Check each morning to 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. If children have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, they should stay home. “We don’t want sick kids going to school,” Dr. Sharma says. Also, if children had recent close contact to a COVID-19 case, they should not go to school — even if they seem fine.

Have a backup plan. If cases COVID-19 cases increase in the community or there is an exposure in your child’s class, you may need to temporarily return to virtual learning, which would require childcare. Having a plan will help reduce stress on your family.

Update your contact info. Make sure the school has current information, including emergency contacts and individuals authorized to pick up your child from school. If that list includes anyone who is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, consider identifying an alternate person.

Get up to date on vaccinations. If you are not sure what vaccines or boosters your child needs, check with your pediatrician. The CDC recommends an annual influenza vaccine for all children age 6 months and older. Get your child’s as soon as possible. This is especially important 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.

Brown-bagging is back. Though some schools may offer contact-free cafeteria food, it’s always safe to bring food from home. However, ditch the reusable lunch boxes and opt for a throw-away lunch bags. It’s more sanitary to toss everything after eating rather than to bring anything home. Also, be familiar with how your school will make water available during the day. Consider packing a water bottle or two.

Establish and maintain a routine at home. After months of remote learning and the summertime hiatus, many children will struggle with returning to a more structured environment. Be patient, but consistent. Keeping a regular schedule for bedtime, meals and other family activities provides a sense of control, predictability, calm, and well-being.

Be a joiner. If you’re not a parent who typically engages with your child’s school, now would be a good time to start. Chat or email with the teacher if you have specific concerns about how your child is adjusting. And stay informed — conditions can change quickly. Check the school district’s website, sign up for notifications or join a school-related social media group to stay on top of things.

Get help if you need it. Most children will manage well with the support of family, even if they exhibit some signs of anxiety, such as difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Some children, however, may have risk factors for more intense reactions, including severe anxiety or depression. Parents and caregivers should contact a professional if children exhibit significant changes in behavior.

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