Return to School During COVID-19

Please read this article from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding returning to school this fall.

​​​​A big question many parents have right now is what can help keep kids safe from COVID-19 when they go back to school.​

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)advises schools to start with a goal of having students physically present in school. This is because of what we know about how the virus behaves in kids. It is also because kids who are in school learn more than math, reading and science. They also learn social and emotional skills, get healthy meals and exercise, mental health support and other things that cannot be provided with online learning.

What schools need to do​

There are a number of steps schools should take when students and staff are in school. These steps can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections. They include:

  • Social distancing, sometimes called physical distancing, is the act of keeping people separated to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Do students need to stay at least 6 feet apart? The AAP says spacing as close as 3 feet may have similar benefits if students wear cloth face coverings and do not have symptoms of illness. Pre-kindergarten, elementary and secondary school students can do other things to help prevent the virus from spreading.
    • Children in pre-kindergarten (preschool) should spend time outdoors when possible. Hand washing is especially important, because it may not be possible to keep them 3 to 6 feet apart. Adults should wear cloth face coverings.
    • Elementary students can wear cloth face coverings if they do not touch their mouth or nose. Desks can be 3-6 feet apart, and they should use outdoor spaces when possible.
    • Secondary school students should wear cloth face masks if they can’t stay 6 feet from others. Desks can be 3-6 feet apart. Avoid close contact, go outdoors if possible and spread out during activities like singing and exercising.
  • Classrooms. To help limit student interaction beyond the classroom, schools can have:
    • teachers move between classrooms, rather than having students fill the hallways during passing periods.
    • students eat lunches at their desks or in their same class group outdoors instead of in crowded lunchrooms.
  • Temperature checks and testing. Testing students to check if they have an infection is not possible for most schools. Taking students’ temperature at school also may not be feasible. Students, teachers, and staff with a fever of 100.4 degrees or greater or signs of illness should not attend school.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting. Physical distancing, face coverings, and hand hygiene are the best way for students to prevent the virus from spreading. Schools should follow CDC guidelines on proper disinfecting and sanitizing classrooms and common areas.

Even with safety plans in place, a few students with high-risk medical conditions may need to continue distance learning. Schools should also prepare to close again and switch to distance learning if there are new waves of COVID-19 infection.

Buses, hallways, meals, and playgrounds

Schools can encourage students with other ways to get to school to use those options. Bus riders can be given an assigned seat and wear a cloth face covering. At school, hallways and stairs can be marked with one-way arrows on the floor. They can stay with their assigned group for meals or stay in their classroom. Students should be allowed to use the playground in small groups. ​​

Other considerations

In addition to having plans in place to keep students safe, there are other factors that school communities need to address:

Pressure to catch up. Students may not have gained as much from distance learning. Some students may not have had access to computers and WiFi. Schools should be prepared to adjust curricula and not expect to make up all lost progress. It is important to balance core subjects with physical education and other learning experiences.

Students with disabilities. The impact of schools being closed may be greater for students with disabilities. They may have a difficult time transitioning back to school after missing out on instruction time as well as school-based services such as occupational, physical and speech-language therapy and mental health support counseling. The AAP recommends reviewing the needs of each child with an Individual Education Program before they return to school, and starting services even if they are done virtually.​

Annual physicals. The AAP encourages families to continue to see their pediatrician for checkups. Immunizations should be top priority, and all students should get an influenza vaccine. Preparticipation physical examinations also should take place.

Mental health. Mental health support should be available to all students to help them cope with stress from the pandemic and and recognize students who show signs of anxiety or distress. Schools also can help students with suicidal thoughts or behavior get needed support.

Nutrition. Many students receive healthy meals through school meal programs. More students might be able to get free or reduced meals than before the pandemic. Schools should provide children participating in free and reduced meal programs​even if the school closes or the student is sick and stays home from school. ​


​There are many reasons why it is important for students to attend school in-person. Schools provide important services that students may not be able to access during a school closure.

Returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic may not feel like normal – at least for a while. But having school plans in place can help keep students, staff, and families safe.

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