Schools across Illinois and Indiana are discussing the idea of schools reopening for the 2020-2021 school year in the fall. After children spending much of the second half of last school year at home, e-learning, in-person learning will be a change. School as they knew it will not be the same, but as parents, you must talk with your children about what to expect and not scare them.
How Should I Prepare My Child To Return To The School Setting?
The president of the Indiana Association of School Nurses (IASN) said that unless there has been official word of your school reopening in a traditional, e-learning or hybrid setting, you should wait on telling your children in detail about how the school year will look. Changes in reopening phases and classroom guidance may evolve based on local conditions.
Ira Kumar, MD, pediatrician with Franciscan Physician Network in Olympia Fields, does think that now is the time to begin conversations about remote options, caregiving in the event of a closure, and protection against the spread of viruses.
“Start talking now and begin making decisions on plans for the school year,” she said.
However, there are things that you can do like having your children practice the routine of wearing a mask. This includes teaching your children how to properly take masks on and off and how to care for a mask properly.
Timothy M. Snyder, MD, pediatrician with Franciscan Physician Network Pediatrics in West Lafayette, has tips for parents who are preparing their children to return to school.
“You should purchase masks early and have the kids wear them around the house for increasingly longer periods to get them used to the concept,” he said. “You also should review good handwashing technique – sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice while washing hands.”
Remaining current on vaccinations and being prepared in the event of illness is important.
“Parents should get their children vaccinated, now more than ever,” Dr. Kumar said. “Get the flu shot when it is available. Get medications ready, have a good thermometer and make appointments with your children’s doctors.”
What Will School Look Like For My Child?
Physically going back to school during a pandemic may mean required or recommended face coverings and social distancing, but also making sure students have what they need should they return to remote learning.
Talking to your children about social distancing is important.
“This is a good time to have your children around family,” Dr. Kumar said. “While around family, teach them how to keep distance, not share food and not drink from common places.”
Since masks may be required, or at least recommended, it is important to know what the safest masks are for children.
“A cloth mask that fits comfortably and covers the mouth and nose is recommended,” Dr. Snyder said. “It should fit comfortably so that the child is not constantly pulling or readjusting the mask.”
Dr. Kumar stated that now is a good time to see what is best for children.
“Get your children in the habit of wearing masks now so you can see what suits them, what is uncomfortable for them, etc.,” Dr. Kumar said.
Playground closures and alternating days of instruction for different groups of students are among the measure’s schools are considering as they build out plans to reopen school buildings.
Will Schools Be Safe And Clean?
Many parents’ biggest concern is if things will be safe and clean enough. Even though every district will have their own guidelines, there are planning considerations and guidance available. Included in these documents is a section about cleaning and disinfection.
Some of the recommendations for cleaning and sanitization by the American Academy of Pediatrics are:
- Cleaning should be performed per established protocols followed by disinfection when appropriate.
- When using disinfectants, the manufacturers’ instructions must be followed.
- The use of EPA approved disinfectants against COVID-19 coronavirus is recommended.
- When possible, only products labeled as safe for humans and the environment containing active ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide, ethanol, citric acid, should be used because they are less toxic, are not strong respiratory irritants or asthma triggers.
- When EPA-approved disinfectants are not available, alternative disinfectants such as diluted bleach or 70% alcohol solutions can be used.
- Children should not be present when disinfectants are in use and should not participate in disinfecting activities.
- Surfaces that are used frequently, such as drinking fountains, door handles, sinks and faucet handles, etc., should be cleaned and disinfected at least daily and as often as possible.
- Bathrooms should receive frequent cleaning and disinfection.
- Shared equipment including computer equipment, keyboards, art supplies, and play or gym equipment should also be disinfected frequently.
What If My Child Has Asthma Or Other Lung Problems?
Asthma or other lung problems can always cause fear or worry for their children while they are at school, but especially now more than ever. This can be because these kind of health problems can put children at a higher risk during this time.
Talking to your child’s physician is important.
“A child with chronic illness would be at increased risk for significant illness from the COVID-19 virus,” Dr. Snyder said. “If the child is on controller medication or has had frequent hospitalizations, some consideration should be given to keep them home and doing e-learning. Parents should make this decision along with their child’s physician.”
Should I Keep My Child Home If He/She Has a Low-Grade Fever?
School districts may have different requirements based on state and county health department guidance. Parents may be asked to take their children’s temperatures daily. Temperature checks may occur as students enter the school building every day.
Dr. Snyder talked about children staying home if they are feeling sick with a fever, cough, etc.
“Typical guidelines should be followed – children should definitely stay home if they have a fever (temp 100.4 or above, or according to school guidelines),” he said. “There may be lower tolerance for cough and runny nose, although almost all kids have these symptoms throughout the winter.”
Your school may have adjusted attendance policies regarding documentation for absences due to illnesses or length of time outside of school for fever or COVID-19 symptoms as well.
How Should We Plan/Talk About Potential School Closures?
Help your child understand that we are still learning about the virus.
“Parents should be prepared for periods when schools may be closed again if there is a significant increase in cases locally,” Dr. Snyder said. “They should reassure their children that things could change unexpectedly, but everything is being done to maintain their safety.”
By Ariel Anderson
Social Media Specialist