Back to school guide for parents 2021

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As the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads rapidly, you may be seeking best practices for your child to follow at school. Some schools have not instituted mask mandates – and some states have even instituted mask mandate bans – while children under the age of 12 aren’t eligible to receive the vaccine. These factors put school children especially at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19.

With constantly shifting data and recommendations, sending your kids back to school can be a daunting process. Our back-to-school guide aims to help parents and their children head back to school safely, armed with the latest information.

Table of contents

Back to school amid COVID-19 Delta variant

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Delta variant is more contagious than any COVID-19 variant. Unfortunately, the Delta variant’s ability to spread quickly makes heading back to school even riskier for children. Healthy practices can lower the risk of your child getting the virus from a classmate – but before outlining those, it can be helpful to understand the challenges you might face while sending your child back to school.

The challenges parents currently face

Parents face a myriad number of challenges in sending their children back to school while the pandemic continues.

Inconsistent Mask Mandates

School districts in states with mask mandate bans, such as Florida and South Carolina, could lose state funding if they implement a mask mandate. In many schools, parents make the final call over whether or not their child wears a mask at school, which means many children show up without masks. Mask mandates and mask mandate bans are constantly changing, so it’s a good idea to verify the status of your child’s school with their school district throughout the year. Keep in mind that in states without mandates (or bans on mandates), it is often up to the school district to decide whether masks are required.

State Status of Mask Mandates in Schools
Alabama No mandate
Alaska No mandate
Arizona Ban on mask mandates
Arkansas Ban on mask mandates
California Masks mandated
Colorado No mandate
Connecticut Masks mandated
Delaware Masks mandated
Florida Ban on mask mandates
Georgia No mandate
Hawaii Masks mandated
Idaho No mandate
Illinois Masks mandated
Indiana No mandate
Iowa Ban on mask mandates
Kansas No mandate
Kentucky No mandate
Louisiana Masks mandated
Maine No mandate
Maryland No mandate
Massachusetts No mandate
Michigan No mandate
Minnesota No mandate
Mississippi No mandate
Missouri No mandate
Montana No mandate
Nebraska No mandate
Nevada Masks mandated
New Hampshire No mandate
New Jersey Masks mandated
New Mexico Masks not mandated if vaccinated
New York No mandate
North Carolina No mandate
North Dakota No mandate
Ohio No mandate
Oklahoma Ban on mask mandates
Oregon Masks mandated
Pennsylvania No mandate
Rhode Island No mandate
South Carolina Ban on mask mandates
South Dakota No mandate
Tennessee No mandate
Texas Ban on mask mandates
Utah Ban on mask mandates
Vermont No mandate
Virginia No mandate
Washington Masks mandated
Washington, D.C. Masks mandated
West Virginia No mandate
Wisconsin No mandate

Limited options for childcare

If mask-wearing at your child’s school is inconsistent, they could be susceptible to getting sick. If your child gets sick at school or daycare, or if their school or daycare closes due to an outbreak, you may not have another option for childcare, especially because many parents have gone back to work in the office. Since parents have been dealing with childcare issues since the beginning of the pandemic, many articles now offer advice and resources. You may want to look into potential solutions for childcare before you need it, so you are prepared if your child gets sick or their classroom temporarily shuts down.

Staying up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 information

At the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC discouraged mask-wearing. Now, masks have been proven to be one of the most successful ways to stop the spread of COVID. A year and a half into the pandemic, we have learned a lot about the virus, how it spreads, and what precautions work best to quash it. However, many communities are still at odds over what precautions to take, if any. The disagreement about how to prevent COVID-19 infections might be due to new information constantly emerging. In the midst of changing information, rules and guidelines, keeping up-to-date with the latest coronavirus news from the CDC can help you make informed decisions about your child’s health during back-to-school.

While certain information might change, the tried and true methods for squashing the spread of germs are always a good idea – whether regarding COVID-19, the flu, common colds or anything else. Washing your hands with warm soapy water, social distancing, disinfecting frequently used items, covering sneezes and coughs with a tissue and wearing masks are proven to slow the spread of germs.

What can parents do?

Parents in states with mask mandate bans may have a more difficult time ensuring their children stay safe. Even if you send your child to school with a mask on, you won’t be able to ensure that their classmates follow suit. Thankfully, there are additional steps you can take to mitigate risk to your child.

Talk to your kids about the risk

Keep your children updated on the most recent safety guidelines from the CDC, and explain why following these tips is essential. Let your kids know the consequences of not practicing COVID prevention precautions.

Some schools are more prepared with COVID-19 safety materials than others. For instance, schools in Washington state must practice social distancing, improve ventilation, wear masks and enforce sanitizing surfaces and hands. In contrast, South Carolina school districts are banned from instituting a mask mandate.

Regardless of where you live, you can take your child’s safety into your own hands. One way to ensure your child stays healthy is to prepare a health safety kit rather than relying on their school to provide what they need.

Your child’s health safety kit could include:

  • Clip-on hand sanitizer: A small, nifty hand sanitizer is fun to use and encourages your child to sanitize often.
  • Masks attached to a lanyard: If your child has a penchant for losing personal items, you may want to attach one or two masks to a bright-colored lanyard.
  • Sanitizing wipes: Teach your child to wipe down their desk and chair with sanitizing wipes, which can be purchased in small, portable containers for easy carrying.
  • Bag for mask storage: When your child removes their mask to eat or drink, it can be helpful to have a designated bag for brief storage.
  • Tissues to cover sneezes: Have your child bring their own tissues to cover their sneezes and coughs.
  • Reusable water bottle: Avoiding communal spaces like water fountains is vital for reducing exposure to COVID-19.
  • Individual school supplies: Children often share communal classroom supplies. To avoid additional group contact, have your kid bring their own pencils, paper, markers, glue and more.

Sending your child to school with a health safety kit won’t automatically keep them safe. Keeping their age in mind, you may want to talk to your child about why COVID-19 guidelines are important. If the child feels afraid or confused, you may want to encourage them to ask questions and learn with you. COVID guidelines are not intended to scare your child. Instead, you can present these tips as a fun way to reduce the spread of germs in the classroom.

Get vaccinated

According to the CDC, children under the age of 12 are not currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Some Americans voiced concerns about receiving a vaccine that the FDA did not fully approve. Luckily, the Pfizer vaccine recently received full FDA approval, and Moderna will likely receive full approval shortly for their version of the vaccine.

Current news reports suggest that a vaccine may be available for children ages two to 11 some time this fall.

Get tested

If you or your child are feeling sick, or if your child has been exposed to the virus at school, it’s important to get tested for COVID-19. The CDC recommends testing five days after exposure to prevent a false negative and suggests that people who think they might have COVID-19 should quarantine until they receive a negative result. Even if their symptoms turn out to be a cold, getting tested allows you to know for sure. In contrast, if your child contracted COVID and didn’t get tested, they could return to school and risk infecting their class.

If you are considering getting tested, keep in mind that your locality may have special rules about testing. For instance, in areas running low on tests, you will likely have to experience symptoms to qualify for a test.

If your child tests positive for COVID-19, the CDC recommends that the child isolate immediately. Rather than returning your child to school, you should call the administration or your child’s teacher and request school materials from home. Your child should stay home and quarantine for 10 days following the day their symptoms began. For those 10 days, your child mustn’t congregate in public areas or play with other children so that they do not spread the virus.

On the way to school

Parents driving

You may be able to keep your child germ-free and healthy on the way to school, but the car ride back might not be as clean. Children can track germs from the classroom into the car and back home to the rest of your family. However, there are a few ways to make your ride home as germ-free as possible.

To limit bacteria in the car, you can:

  • Use hand sanitizer before getting into the car.
  • Wipe down car handles before and after drop off and pick-up.
  • Drive with the windows down.
  • Avoid picking up and dropping off friends of your child.
  • Ask your child to wear their mask outside until they enter your vehicle.

You can never be too careful when it comes to promoting healthy practices in your vehicle. Also, if you are going to be driving a lot on the school run, you can never be too cautious when protecting yourself financially in the event of a car accident, so make sure you have the best car insurance available.

Taking the bus

Of course, not every parent drives their children to school. Over half of all school children take the bus. Most school busses hold between 22 and 24 passengers – some of which may be unvaccinated or not taking proper COVID-19 precautions. If your child takes the bus, you can ask them to follow certain rules to minimize risk. Taking a few precautions can make all this difference regarding COVID safety in transportation to and from school.

Encourage your child to:

  • Wear a face covering on the bus.
  • Apply hand sanitizer before getting on and after getting off the bus.
  • Socially distance from other riders when possible.
  • Open their window.
  • Sanitize their seat and surfaces before sitting down.

Carpooling

Many parents take turns driving their children to school by carpooling with neighborhood families. While carpooling may be slightly riskier than your kids riding in your car, this method is much safer than taking the bus. To ensure safety while carpooling, you may want to make sure other parents agree to certain COVID guidelines such as wearing masks in the car, traveling with the windows down, sanitizing surfaces and using hand sanitizer before and after the ride.

In the classroom

As mentioned, mask requirements and sanitation protocols vary by the school district. Whether or not your child’s school requires students to wear masks, teaching your child safe practices can help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom.

Tips for kids

If your child is getting ready to head back to school, consider talking with them about how they can do their part to keep everyone safe.

For instance, your child can:

  1. Wear a mask when sitting within six feet of a peer: Social distancing has been found effective by the CDC in reducing COVID-19 transmission. Encourage your child to maintain social distance as much as possible.
  2. Refrain from sharing their lunch, snacks or drinks: Sharing snacks and drinks is a quick way to share germs between students. Instead, encourage your child to eat their own lunch.
  3. Wash hands before eating and using the restroom: Washing your hands with warm, soapy water is a tried and true method for reducing the spread of germs.
  4. Sanitize their hands after touching communal items: Germs can be exchanged easily when using communal items. Applying a portable hand sanitizer before and after touching communal items can cut down on the spread of germs.
  5. Sanitize their desk: Desks can be a hotspot for germs. Sanitizing them with portable wipes is a great way for your child to keep their workspace clean.
  6. Refrain from sharing toys, books or communal school supplies: Sending your child with their own pencils, paper, highlighters, glue sticks, scissors and more can help cut down on unnecessary contact.

Resources for families

If you feel overwhelmed heading back to school amid COVID, you’re not alone. Millions of American families are dealing with this daunting experience. Still, some resources can help make the process a little easier and ensure everyone has a great school year.

Below, find some resources to help you cope with COVID-19:

Written by
Lizzie Nealon
Insurance Writer
Lizzie Nealon is an insurance writer for Bankrate. Her favorite part of the job is making home, auto and life insurance digestible for readers so they can prepare for the future.
Edited by
Insurance Editor