Education

What Parents Can Ask Schools about COVID-19 Safety Measures

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As children across the country start strapping on their backpacks, loading up school buses, and walking into classrooms for the first time in many months, the excitement is palpable. But many parents are also wondering how best to keep their kids safe at school while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

First, the good news: School leaders and public health officials know a lot more now than they did at the start of the pandemic – or even this past Spring – about what works to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, keep kids safe, and keep schools open so children can learn in person. 

Still, every school, district, and state has different requirements and systems in place – so how do you know what environment your child is walking into?

Here are the top safety measures you can ask your child’s teacher or Principal about.

Vaccination of Teachers and Staff

COVID-19 vaccinations are the number one way to prevent infection and keep everyone safe – at home, at school, and in the community. But currently, only children 12 and older are authorized to receive the vaccine. For younger children, surrounding them with vaccinated people wherever possible can help protect them from exposure. 

What You Can Ask

While you may ask if your child’s teacher is vaccinated, know that teachers are not required to tell you, and privacy laws may prevent the school from releasing that information about an individual teacher. 

However, you can ask your Principal what percentage of staff in the school building have been vaccinated. And if your child is particularly vulnerable with medical needs that place them at greater risk, you may be able to request that they be placed with vaccinated teachers in your child’s individualized education program. 

Universal Masking

After vaccination, universal masking is the best preventive measure that health officials recommend in schools for all staff and students age 2 and older. Masking has proven to be effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools, even in situations with limited social distancing.

Not all schools require masks to be worn by everyone. As of mid-August, only 9 states and Washington, DC have mask mandates for school; 8 states have bans on mask mandates; and in the remaining states, it’s a mix of requirements across districts, or is left optional to families. 

What You Can Ask

The first and best thing you can do, regardless of your school’s requirements, is to ensure your child wears a mask to school. 

Next, ask your school’s Principal: What the school policy is on masking – and how do you plan to enforce that policy?

If your school does not have universal masking in place, you can communicate your support for universal masking to the Principal and to your district’s Superintendent or School Board, where those decisions are likely made.

Social Distancing

Social distancing has become a well-known and well-practiced safety measure against COVID-19 in all environments – and that includes schools. 

The CDC recommends at least 3 feet of social distancing to prevent the virus from spreading. Many schools found ways to implement this recommendation last Spring with hybrid models and more children opting for remote learning. But with a full return to in-person school and with many more children in the building, distancing may get more challenging, so it’s important to understand what your child’s school is doing to address the need.

What You Can Ask

Social distancing applies in a number of school environments. Ask your teacher: How many children will be in their classroom this year, and what the seating arrangements will be? How much distance is going to be between desks? 

You can also talk to the Principal and ask: What other methods do the staff have to enforce social distancing? Is there going to be a seating chart maintained in classrooms and on buses? This can help in case of positive COVID-19 cases to do contact tracing and alert parents if their child has been in close proximity to anyone who has been infected.

Ventilation

Effective ventilation in schools can help reduce the spread of COVID-19. While not every school will be able to update their HVAC systems, there are a number of ways schools can improve ventilation and keep kids safe. It could be as simple as keeping classroom windows and doors open, or holding activities outside where weather allows. Fans can also help. Additionally, at lunch time, when students will need to have masks off to eat, an environment with plenty of fresh air and ventilation can really help.

What You Can Ask

This is an area where schools vary widely. You can ask your Principal if there have been any updates to the HVAC system, but know that’s not always possible. But either way, what other ventilation improvements have been put in place?

Also, when children are eating lunch, where can they plan to eat that maximizes their space, ventilation, and fresh air – whether that’s outdoors or inside?

COVID-19 Testing

Routine testing for COVID-19 is one of the best tools schools have to prevent outbreaks. It’s likely that schools across the country will see individuals test positive for COVID-19 this year, particularly in areas of the country with high transmission rates. Often, these cases are a reflection of that community spread, and not necessarily an indication that the spread is happening within the school building. But testing helps identify individual cases before they have an opportunity to spread to others – enabling that person to quarantine and minimizing risks to others. 

Schools have more access this year to systems and federal funds to support COVID-19 testing than they did in the past two school years. 

What You Can Ask

Does the school have a testing plan in place this year? Is there a cost to families for testing? And what is the policy for which students and staff get routine testing? Lastly, what is the school’s plan of action for when positive cases are identified through routine testing?

Communication with Families about COVID-19 Updates

As the school year gets underway, it’s nearly certain parents and schools will face new challenges as everyone does their best to get back to normal and keep kids in the classroom. In addition to asking about all of these safety measures, it’s important to stay in touch with schools and pay attention to any updates they send to parents. 

What You Can Ask

Ask your Principal or teacher how they plan to communicate updates with families throughout the school year. Do they have social media channels that you can subscribe to? Will they send out newsletters or email updates? What is their policy for alerting families to positive cases of COVID-19 in the building, or providing updates on any of these safety measures?

Make sure the school has your correct email address and contact information and be sure to look out for any communication they send your way.


Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.

For ongoing updates on coronavirus-related issues and questions that impact children and families, please find additional resources here.