Back to school

Questions and answers for parents

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13 September 2021

As we prepare to send our children back to school, we all have questions about how best to protect them from COVID-19. The impact of school closures on a child’s wellbeing is significant. Where possible, it’s important that children have an opportunity to socialize with their peers, to learn and to develop emotionally. Research to-date shows that children are at lower risk than adults, though they can spread the virus to others, including other children with underlying medical conditions.

Ask your school for their COVID-19 rules, routines, and safety protocols. Overall parents should follow the local public health advice and regulations. In the meantime, here’s some answers to a few key questions that will help keep everyone safe.

1. Should I send my child to school this year?

The short answer is, whenever open, yes. School closures have been shown to negatively impact child health and wellbeing, as well as their learning. The risk to children when returning to in-person school – even with new variants – is low when the school, staff and teachers follow COVID-19 recommended precautions and where safety protocols around handwashing, distancing, and ventilation are in place. If your child is sick, with COVID-19 symptoms, keep them home until their recovery.

2. How do I prepare my child for school?

Remind your child about all the fun and exciting things the back-to-school will bring, such as the time with their friends and their teachers, their routine and activities. Talk about the best ways to stay safe against COVID-19, including by keeping their hands clean, practicing physical distancing and covering their mouths and noses if they cough or sneeze with their bent elbow or a tissue. When masks are recommended, children should know how to wear them, covering their mouth and nose, and understand how to wash and dispose them of.

You can also make returning to school fun for your younger children by keeping them involved.  Some ideas include letting them pick out colourful masks (if they are expected to wear them), making up songs to remember hand-washing routines and safety protocols. You can also show them fun ways to greet their friends while keeping their distance – it can be through a simple wave or even a different move!

3. What if my child is nervous to go back to school?

Children may be experiencing anxiety with the prospect of returning to school. Keep an eye out for signs of stress and encourage your child to talk openly about their concerns. Reassure them that the school is doing their best to protect everyone from COVID-19 and we all can do our part. Remember to be honest and understanding about their feelings. The most important thing is to encourage your child to feel confident about their new school year!

4. What if my child is sick?

If your child is showing any signs of illness, such as a fever, stuffy nose, sore throat, or a cough, it is best not to send them to school. Follow your school policy and seek medical advice if necessary. On the other hand, if your child has had contact with a person infected with COVID-19, make sure to keep him/her at home following local public health authorities’ recommendations on self-isolation. Keep your school informed throughout. You may get in contact with the teacher or notify the school by phone, e-mail or any other communication channel available. Check with the school or teacher what is the best way to keep in contact with them.

5. Should I be taking any extra precaution, including when my child is back home from the school?

Schools should be prepared to be a safe place for children and their families. Ask your child or the teacher to keep you informed about activities that may put them in close contact with others. In general, if schools are implementing the recommended safety measures, you should not be concerned about their return to home. However, if you or anyone in your household is at increased risk of severe COVID-19 infection due to age or co-morbidities, make sure this person follows the protective measures, including physical distancing, and gets the vaccine once available.

Provide advice to your child on how to travel safely back home. For instance, you can recommend that they walk or cycle to avoid crowded school buses or public transport. If this is not possible and masks are recommended in your location, remind them to use the masks covering their mouth and nose in closed and crowded settings, including on the bus. Make sure he/she takes proper hygiene measures upon arrival.

6. What if my child becomes sick at school?

If your child shows COVID-19 symptoms at school, the teacher or school staff must act quickly. Parents should be contacted immediately to evaluate the actions to be taken according to the guidelines of the local health authorities. Get in contact with your child’s doctor to evaluate the need to perform a COVID-19 test and keep the school informed on the test results. Keep your child at home until the doctor’s recommendation or follow the self-isolation protocols from your local heath authority.

7. What if my child’s classmate or teacher gets sick at school?

If the school informs you that your child’s classmate or teacher tested positive for COVID-19, monitor your child’s symptoms and follow the self-isolation recommendations from your local health authorities. Seek medical care if your child shows COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough, or tiredness. Keep in touch with the school to receive information or updates on whether it is safe for your child to come to school and what the learning schedule will be. You may reach the school through the teacher, phone, e-mail, or another available communication channel.

8. Can children with asthma, obesity, diabetes and other health conditions go back to school?

The answer depends on the current condition of the child, the situation of COVID-19 in their community and the safety measures implemented by the school. Make sure the school is implementing safety protocols that include handwashing, distancing and ventilation.

Although, in most cases, children are asymptomatic or develop mild symptoms when they get COVID-19, evidence shows that people with risky health conditions (asthma, diabetes or obesity) are more likely to develop serious COVID-19 symptoms or even die. These effects appear to occur in children as well, but more studies are needed to better understand the COVID-19 effects in children with underlying health conditions.

If the vaccine is available for your child, the best way to protect them is through vaccination. The vaccine can significantly decrease the risk of severe COVID-19, including hospitalizations and death.