Back to School: The Questions Every Family Should Ask

Here's how to evaluate the readiness of your child's school to handle COVID-19.
Back to School
Back to School(Colin Lamar | KTUU)
Published: Aug. 19, 2020 at 7:10 PM AKDT
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The COVID-19 pandemic has radically altered the start of the fall semester. Weighing the pros and cons of returning to school versus at-home learning is an essential task for families, especially as parents consider which back-to-school option best meets their needs.

To do that, experts recommend asking yourself and your child’s school several questions. The CDC has created a Back to School Decision Making Tool to guide you through the process. The CDC says the main things to consider are your family’s risk level, your community’s risk level, how well your school is prepared, and what type of learning environment is best for your child.

The decision making checklist will help you organize your thoughts and feelings about returning to school. Once you’ve filled it out, you’ll be able to more easily identify which school setting -- in-person, at-home, or perhaps a hybrid model -- makes the most sense for your needs.

While the CDC supports local decision making among education and community leaders about how and when to reopen schools, it has said communities with high transmission rates of the virus might need to take extra precautions.

“The default needs to be that schools are fully open and operational in the fall so that students can resume full-time learning. In areas where there are hot spots, remote and distance learning might need to be adopted for a certain amount of time,” Dr. Michael Zais, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, told reporters July 24th.

“Hot spots” are “where the percent positivity rate within the community is greater than 5%,” Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the CDC, said during the same press conference.

“I think the most important thing is that the parent needs to ask the school whether or not they have mitigation protocols in place to basically protect both the students and the teachers,” Dr. Tina Tan, Professor of Pediatrics at Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University, told KTUU Wednesday.

“This includes staff and students always wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, good hand hygiene. Or -- the desk or the place that the students are going to sit -- are they physically distanced apart? What are their protocols for recess? What are their protocols for lunchtime? What are their protocols in terms of cohorting the students into smaller groups? “These are all things that parents need to be asking the school to ensure that these things are in place,” Tan said.

Tan also recommends asking:

- Whether schools have a protocol for frequent disinfecting and cleaning of frequently touch surfaces?

- What are the bathroom protocols?

- Are they cleaning the bathroom? You know, after every use? Are they cleaning it twice a day? Three times a day?

- Is there a symptom screening protocol in place that the parents can use every morning to ensure that their child is not sick before they go to school?

- Is the school staggering stop and start times for different classes? Are they staggering pickup times for the kids so that you don’t have a lot of children and a lot of parents in the same place at the same time?

- Do they [schools] have a protocol for what needs to be done once someone tests positive? Tan said schools need to be working with the public health department to ensure that there is a protocol in place so that there is contact tracing, and there is testing done in those types of situations.

These questions, and taking into consideration whether members of your family are high risk, should help you make a solid decision.

“We know that in-person learning for many children is a better option than virtual learning. So if parents feel comfortable with the protocols that are in place, I think that they can send their children to school,” Tan said.

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