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Children's Wisconsin back to school CDC guidelines

How to return to the classroom as safely as possible


Normally, the start of a new school year is met with some mixed emotions for families. Kids are often both a little sad for summer to be ending, but also excited to be seeing their friends again or getting back into their extracurricular activities. 

This year, like so much else, school looks a lot different. Now, many families are feeling overwhelmed, confused or even scared. In addition to pencils and folders, back-to-school shopping lists now include masks and hand sanitizer. Above all, parents simply want to ensure their child will be safe when they go back into the classroom.

While Children’s Wisconsin, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others recommend in-person schooling for children who do not have a serious medical condition, it’s clear that a “one-size-fits-all” approach will not work. Each family will have their own considerations for returning to school, and everyone should be prepared to adjust as things change, such as unexpected school closures due to a COVID-19 outbreak. 

Many of these considerations were discussed in a recent live stream with some of our pediatric experts. Still, the conversation continues as schools and school districts share their plans for the year. 

In order to help better plan and prepare for the year ahead, the CDC has developed a checklist for families returning to in-person classes. Below, I’ve outlined some of the important takeaways.

Preparation and prevention

We all have a role to play in limiting the spread of COVID-19. The checklist begins with steps to ensure your child is healthy and safe to go to school by monitoring for signs of illness — for example, take your child’s temperature every morning and keep them home if it’s greater than 100.4. The CDC also recommends that a child stay home from school in the event they have had close contact to a positive COVID-19 case, and provides guidance on next steps following an exposure. 

If healthy enough to attend school, children should practice strong hygiene habits to protect themselves and others. Parents are encouraged to talk to their child about precautions at school, such as physical distancing, washing hands and wearing masks. These can go a long way to limiting the spread of the disease.

Beyond the classroom

In addition to school support needs, the back-to-school checklist from the CDC also covers needs beyond the classroom. For example, parents may need to consider plans for transportation to and from school, whether it be by bus or carpool. There may also be questions around physical activity related to recess, gym and athletics. 

For families who rely on additional academic supports including Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 Plans, as well as services such as speech, occupational and physical therapy, extra preparation may be needed. For additional support on how to plan and prepare for these services in the coming year, read the School Intervention Program’s guidance on questions to ask your child’s school and medical team.

Keeping children well physically and mentally

Much of the guidance from the AAP, CDC and others is focused on the social and developmental growth that happens in a traditional school environment. That isn’t to say this coming school year will not feel significantly different as we adapt to policies. The checklist encourages parents to have conversations with their child to better prepare for these changes. Having these conversations will help to manage the anxiety and stress that might follow as we adjust to “a new normal.” For tips on how to have those conversations, visit our Shine Through website.

The CDC also notes that parents can serve as a role model during these times. As we head into fall and winter, ensure the whole family is practicing self-care through adequate sleep, exercise and a healthy diet, as well as staying socially connected with others. 

Best laid plans

Indeed, even with significant precautions and planning, families should be prepared for possible school closures or individual quarantine. If positive cases rise in the community, the school may choose to close the building and move to a virtual learning format to help limit the spread of the virus. 

Similarly, if your child is in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, a two-week quarantine may be imposed. These closures and quarantines are undoubtedly disruptive to a family’s schedule, and it is strongly recommended to be prepared for both or either scenario to help minimize disruptions and stress.  

Despite all the planning and best intentions, there is much about the upcoming school year that we can’t know. But the one thing families can always count on is Children’s Wisconsin to be there to provide care and guidance. 

We will continue to monitor CDC recommendations and share all relevant updates on the Children’s Wisconsin COVID-19 website. If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s medical care, please contact their pediatrician.