A Resource for Parents on Returning to In-Person Learning
All across America, parents and families are preparing for the return to school as our nation continues to reemerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. This summer, students are already reengaging with their peers and communities, getting ready to return to classrooms and school buildings after the challenges of the last year.
Thanks to increased access to COVID-19 vaccines for adults and students ages 12 years and older, scientifically proven virus prevention strategies, and critical federal resources—including those made available by the American Rescue Plan—schools across the nation can continue to safely reopen for in-person learning for the 2021-2022 academic year. As the CDC guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools indicates, students benefit from in-person learning. By taking important steps to get more eligible students vaccinated and implementing prevention strategies, including indoor masking in K-12 schools, we can get more students back into classrooms across the country.
As you are preparing for the return to school for your child, there are a few key items you can consider putting on your checklist to help ensure your child is prepared to thrive in this academic year and beyond:
- Make a Plan for Eligible Children to Get Vaccinated
- Talk to Your School about Health and Safety Protocols
- If Your Child isn’t Eligible Yet for a Vaccine, Talk with Them about Strategies to Keep Them Safe at School
- Make a Plan to Access Safe Transportation to and from School
- Talk to Your Child’s Teacher about Your Child’s Needs
- Connect to Support
Read on for more information!
Make a Plan for Eligible Children to Get Vaccinated
Vaccination is currently the leading public health strategy to end the pandemic. More than 180 million Americans have received at least one shot, and fully vaccinated people in communities across the country have protection against COVID-19 and its variants.
If your child is 12 years of age or older, they can receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Especially before the school year starts, get the eligible children in your family fully vaccinated. It typically takes 2 weeks after vaccination for the body to build protection (immunity) against the virus that causes COVID-19. You can get information on how to plan to get your child fully vaccinated before the start of the school year, by calling your pediatrician or going to vaccines.gov to find out more. You can also check out these key facts about vaccinations and a guide about COVID-19 vaccines for children and teens from CDC.
If you already have been vaccinated, you can provide valuable insights into the experience and help your child with their questions. (For example, children may ask: “Does the shot hurt?” or “Will I feel sick afterward?”) You also can be a great source of information for your entire family. The CDC offers a guide that can help you speak with family members and friends about COVID-19 vaccines.
To find where vaccines are available in your local community in more than 150 languages, search vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233.
Talk to Your School about Health and Safety Protocols
In talking to the principal, teachers, and other staff at your child’s school, you and your child can receive helpful information about the strategies the school is implementing to ensure the health and safety of students, educators, and staff. These important conversations can help you and your child to best plan for the upcoming school year and understand the precautions that will be in place.
As students return for in-person learning, CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Schools should also use multiple strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 based on local transmission and vaccination rates. Fortunately, we know what is working—and all schools can take steps, make a plan, and implement science-based strategies to help ensure that students remain safely learning in-person in their classrooms. Because we know that students benefit from in-person learning.
Below are a few strategies that are part of a layered approach to health and safety. Visit the CDC’s website to learn more about all nine strategies.
- The CDC recommends all students, educators, staff, and visitors wear masks indoors in K-12 schools. When teachers, staff, and students consistently and correctly wear a mask, they protect others as well as themselves.
- The CDC recommends that schools maintain at least three feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is important to layer multiple other prevention strategies. The CDC has underscored the importance of students returning to in-person learning to support the social, emotional, and academic development of students and improve life outcomes.
Good Handwashing and Respiratory Etiquette
- Encourage your child to make it part of their practice at school and at home to wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. When handwashing isn’t possible, encourage your child to use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol (and consider including travel sanitizers in student backpacks when possible.) Check out these tips for making handwashing a fun family activity to reinforce when you are at home.
- Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your elbow can help keep students, educators, and staff from getting and spreading COVID-19 as well as other infectious illnesses.
Staying Home When Sick and Getting Tested
- As members of your school’s community, you have a vital role in keeping your child, friends and educators safe. If your child is showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19 or other infectious illnesses, it’s essential to keep them home and to ensure they get tested for the virus.
- Screening testing is one important way to identify children and adults infected with COVID-19, isolate cases, and identify clusters where the virus may be spreading. Even fully vaccinated individuals who were in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should be tested 3-5 days after exposure.
- You should also reach out to your school about plans for remote learning options during periodic absence or extended absence related to COVID-19.
If Your Child isn’t Eligible Yet for a Vaccine, Talk with Them about Strategies to Keep Them Safe at School
If your child is under 12 years of age or has otherwise not yet been able to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you and your child can discuss best practices for wearing masks and engaging in physical distancing at school. If your child is immunocompromised, you should discuss the need for personal protective measures after vaccination with your child’s healthcare provider.
Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals in K-12 schools. Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is very important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
When children (ages 2 years and older) consistently and correctly wear a mask, they protect others as well as themselves. Check out this resource from the CDC for tips on wearing masks correctly, and practice these tips with your child.
Make a Plan to Access Safe Transportation to and from School
Each family’s transportation needs are different, but it’s equally important that children’s school transportation is healthy and safe, whether that be public transportation, school buses, carpooling, or walking. Whatever mode of transportation you’re using in the fall, talk to your child about health and safety protocols to use to and from school. For example, per the CDC, wearing masks on school buses is mandatory and the CDC recommends all students, educators, staff, and visitors wear masks indoors in K-12 schools. Make sure your child knows about masking policies and mitigation strategies to keep themselves and those around them healthy and safe. Additional topics to discuss can include refreshers on handwashing and sanitizing practices after taking public transportation, or talking to fellow parents, families, and your children about keeping distance in carpools when possible.
Talk to Your Child’s Teacher about Your Child’s Needs
The last 18 months have brought tremendous challenges to students, families, educators, and communities, which may result in new or different emotions and experiences in your child’s return to school. From the loss of loved ones, to the responsibility of taking care of younger siblings or sick family members, to adjusting to online or hybrid learning, to missing face-to-face contact with peers and educators in classrooms and schools, these challenges can result in changes in your child’s academic, behavioral, or mental health needs.
Importantly, the American Rescue Plan provides resources so that schools can ensure students—particularly those in communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic—have access to counselors and mental health services to address the traumas that children have faced and to create a strong foundation for academic success.
In the return to in-person school, it’s critical that children’s social and emotional development, mental and physical health, and academic needs are met. Speak with your child’s teachers and counselors early in the school year about your child’s strengths and needs across these areas.
For example, if your child has an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or 504 Plan or receives other learning, mental health, or behavioral supports, make sure to speak with your child’s teacher about ensuring that your child continues to receive appropriate services in the upcoming school year. Consult with the IEP team and request a meeting to discuss changes, if necessary, in your child’s IEP. If you believe that your child has new needs that should be addressed, share those with your child’s teacher, so that together, you and the IEP team can develop a revised IEP to help your child receive what they need to be successful.
Throughout the pandemic, you have been more involved than ever in your child’s daily education. You may have learned a lot about strategies for supporting your child’s learning. Talk with your child’s teacher about the things that seemed to work best and the ways to continue those practices during in-person learning.
Connect to Support
Child care is crucial for so many families—helping parents get back to work and bolstering the economic security of entire households. The Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan provides the largest Child Tax Credit ever and historic relief to the most working families ever. As of this month, most families are automatically receiving monthly payments of $250 or $300 per child.
If you didn’t make enough to be required to file taxes in 2020 or 2019, it is not too late to get Child Tax Credit payments—just visit childtaxcredit.gov to sign up. These payments do not count as income for any family. So, signing up won’t affect your eligibility for other federal benefits like SNAP and WIC.
The American Rescue Plan includes $122 billion through the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund to help schools prevent COVID-19 transmission and recover from its effects. With the help of these vital federal funds, states and districts are taking steps that will keep students safe, and help parents and families feel even more confident in sending their children to school for in-person learning. Among many other uses, states and districts may use these funds to:
- Invest in resources to implement guidance and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to keep students, educators, and staff safe; improve ventilation; purchase personal protective equipment (PPE); or obtain additional space, for example;
- Hire additional school personnel, such as nurses and custodial staff, to help keep schools healthy and safe;
- Provide for physical distancing and safety protocols on school buses; and
- Implement strategies to meet the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students—especially those who have been most affected by the pandemic—including through evidence-based programs and by connecting students to wrap-around services and other supports.
School leaders, educators, and staff in communities across the country are busy planning to welcome students back to classrooms for in-person learning in the fall. For so many children, their school community can feel like an extension of their family. With the tips, tools, and resources outlined here, we hope you and your child are even better prepared for a successful new school year.
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