Returning to School in a Pandemic

While August tends to feel like a really long Sunday for school staff, students, and their parents, September usually enters with a variety of emotions and a mix of unknowns. These feelings are undoubtedly heightened this year as the Covid-19 pandemic continues and the NYC public school system, the nation’s largest public school system, has decided to open for in-person learning only. Not only is this a new school year with new teachers and classmates that normally make children anxious, but there will also be new rules and protocols to minimize the risk of Covid infection. This could be especially nerve-wracking for students, school employees, and their families who have not returned to a school building since March 2020.


With schools starting September 13th in NYC, the Department of Education has released a preliminary Homecoming NYC handbook for parents. We should expect each school to provide more specific details about what these precautions look like and how they will be implemented. NYC is requiring students to wear masks to prevent risk of infection and recently announced all Department of Education employees be vaccinated with at least a first dose by September 27th (Chang, 2021). This may help families feel a level of protection and ease some nerves. We have seen the benefits of these mandates as states, like Florida, that banned mask mandates in schools, have had around 5,000 students quarantined in just the first few weeks since school began (Lombardo, 2021).


Whether your children return to their familiar stomping grounds or will begin at a new school with people they have only seen on computer screens, here are some tips:


  • Welcome all the emotions that arise, as conflicting as they may be. It’s okay to feel joy that your child gets to move beyond the walls of your home and socialize with peers. It’s okay to feel afraid that your child gets to move beyond the walls of your home and socialize with peers. The goal is for them to do so safely.

  • Review your family’s protocols to reduce risk of Covid infection. Prepare your child with a mask (or two) that fits well, hand sanitizer, and any other item that has worked for your family unit.

  • Review the school’s safety protocols with your family. Follow up with school personnel regarding any questions you may have. Here are some Questions the CDC recommends parents ask.

  • Check in with your child regularly and encourage them to maintain open communication with you regarding their worries or concerns. Validate their feelings. Allow yourself and your child time to adjust and adapt to these new routines.

  • Celebrate the accomplishments that bring us to a new school year. We have witnessed how resilient and adaptable our children are, especially over the last 1.5 years. They continue to grow and develop even as the world sometimes feels like it is at a standstill. Take those first day of school photos and share them with your loved ones!


References


Chang, S. (2021, September 1). Everything we know about the reopening of NYC schools this year. Gothamist. https://gothamist.com/news/everything-about-reopening-nyc-public-schools-2021-2022.


Lombardo, C. (2021, August 18). In Florida, Texas and Arizona, Defiant school leaders are sticking with Mask Mandates. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/back-to-school-live-updates/2021/08/18/1028863120/texas-florida-arizona-mask-battles-school-leaders.


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