Back-to-school preparations usually take place in the late summer or early fall. But across Southern California, preparing kids for in-person learning starts now.
Los Angeles County elementary schools have been eligible to open since Feb. 16. Middle and high schools could open later this month. Most school districts in Orange County are offering at least a hybrid version of in-person and distance learning with some providing all in-person learning at the elementary level.
After nearly a year of distance learning, some parents are eager to get their kids back into school while others are understandably hesitant. Regardless of where you stand, AltaMed has some resources for returning safely. While we’re all optimistic about the virus being under control, these planned openings could change depending on the number of infections.
COVID-19 in Kids
It’s still unclear how many children have been infected with COVID-19 and how dangerous it is because testing has been focused on adults and those at risk for severe illnesses. There is evidence to suggest children can carry the virus just like adults and spread it to others.
It’s important to make sure kids have good habits to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. That means reinforcing everyday actions like:
Washing hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds
Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth when you’re around people
Avoiding close contact with others, especially those who are sick
Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the crook of an arm
If your children already practice this at home, they should have no problem doing this at school.
Deciding if Kids Should Go Back
Schools play an important role in supporting children’s academic, emotional, social, and physical health. But the benefits of attending in-person should be weighed against the risks to the children and those at home. If a household member is at increased risk for severe illness, everyone in the house, including school-aged children, should act as if they are at increased risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a tool that can help parents and guardians make an informed decision about whether or not to send their children back for in-person learning. There are checklists for assessing:
A school’s plan for in-person learning
Your capacity to continue at-home learning
Local Recommendations in LA and Orange County
Each school is responsible for providing a safe learning environment. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health created a detailed framework for schools to follow before letting students back in the classroom.
Parents can also visit LA County department’s website to see which schools have been approved to open, see case rates by school district, and review the county’s reopening requirements. Knowing these steps can provide some peace of mind.
The Orange County Health Care Agency has a page dedicated to COVID-19 information including guidance for school administrators and information for schools and youth sports. Several school districts in the county have tracking apps on their websites where parents can see the case counts for students, staff, and vendors.
A New Routine
Some things won’t change if you decide to send your children back to school. You will want to make sure the school has your current contact information in case of an emergency, and kids need to be current on all their vaccinations.
But there will also be some new things to consider. You should:
Check children for signs of illness every day, especially a fever over 100.4, cough, diarrhea, vomiting, or body aches.
Be aware of whom children come in contact with, in case someone tests positive for COVID-19.
Learn whom to contact at the school if your child has been exposed.
Know the local COVID-19 testing sites should your child show symptoms.
Review and practice proper hand-washing techniques at home and explain why they’re important.
Teach your child the importance of social distancing at school.
Develop daily routines of what to pack for school (sanitizer, extra masks, a water bottle) and what to do when they get home (washing hands and masks immediately).
After school, you’ll also want to ask questions that go deeper than, “How was your day?” Ask if everyone was in class and wearing their masks, including teachers and staff, and if anyone talked to them about staying safe and practicing good habits. Find out if anyone coughed a lot or had to leave the classroom or school. It’s important to be aware of what is happening in their environment at school because it could affect your environment at home.
Coping with Change
AltaMed is available to help you with resources for dealing with COVID-19, including vaccines when they become available. We lso provide counseling services to help navigate the stress children may be coping with as they return to school.