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Anxiety About Return to School – Good Parenting

By Deborah Wood, Ph.D.

Dear Dr. Debbie,

To say we are anxious about returning to in-person school is an understatement. Our kids did virtual school all last year, but we have friends who go to private school and they were back in the classroom all year. I’ve heard that there were positive cases of Covid-19 requiring quarantines for different classes at different times. When Virtual Learning was offered through the public school, though only to a limited number of students, we didn’t think it would be a desirable option. Our kids wanted so much to be back in the school building. Things are different now.

High Alert

Dear H.A.,

There’s Good Reason to be Anxious

The situation, since the beginning of the pandemic, is ever-evolving. Covid-19 has had a dramatic rise in cases after a brief period of decline in the beginning of the summer. The Delta variant is more contagious than the original virus and earlier variants, and this strain progresses more quickly in patients. The Delta variant causes more serious illness, and more deaths. Even fully vaccinated people can catch and spread the virus, although usually they are less sick than unvaccinated people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised a return to mask wearing, even among vaccinated people, to prevent, or at least slow down, further spread.

Another disturbing difference since the Delta variant appeared in the U.S. is that the rate of infection among children has risen. Of course, a vaccine for children under the age of twelve years is on the way, but not soon enough for Back-to-School. Dr. Anthony Fauci, our trusted source of information for the pandemic, says, “There should be enough data by early October” for a go ahead on a vaccine for the younger children. By the time mass production and distribution get underway, the earliest chance for the first shots will be late December.

Sadly, school districts with low rates of vaccinations have had the highest resurgence of Covid-19, and some schools across the country have already had to close down soon after re-opening in August due to outbreaks among staff and or students.

School System Variations

School districts in the greater D.C.–Baltimore area are operating under mask mandates and vaccine requirements for all staff, and mask mandates for all students. Some districts are requiring all students to be masked at recess. There is an option for weekly tests if a staff person has not been vaccinated. Some schools plan to implement random tests on 10-20% of the staff and students to reveal asymptomatic cases. A quarantine of 7 to 14 days would be required for anyone who has had close contact with someone who had a positive test. A temporary closure of a classroom, or more than one classroom, or an entire building, may occur in the case of multiple positive tests.

Modifications have been made to transportation procedures – in some cases former bus riders must now walk or be driven by their families. It’s hard to stay 3-feet apart from people you don’t live with that may be on your school bus.

Specific mandates, guidelines, and protocols have been posted for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. These should be reviewed by families before the start of school next week, including a review of personal hygiene and safety measures that children need to be taught to follow. Prepare your children to expect desks to be arranged individually (3-feet apart) and explain that classroom materials will not be passed among students. Teachers will be responsible for enforcing many new class rules, and managing their own anxiety about the pandemic, so it is helpful to have parents supporting these efforts in advance. Parents should also be monitoring everyone in the family for Covid-19 symptoms, ready to report a possible case and to immediately get tested. Contact tracing is included among AACPS protocols so that anyone who unwittingly may be carrying the virus can be alerted so they can get tested and prevent further contagion if the test turns out positive.

Proceed With Caution

If everyone does their part with masks, vaccines, physical distancing, monitoring for symptoms, testing, and contact reporting, we can move our way past this global health emergency. Parents have a very important role to play in this effort.

Take the coronavirus seriously. The precautions you and your children need to follow may seem inconvenient or difficult, but they are necessary. The school system will be putting forth great efforts, too, to ensure everyone’s smooth and safe return to classrooms. They’ll handle building ventilation and sanitation and are counting on you to support students’ compliance with masks and other necessary adjustments.

This is how we take control and work together to conquer this historic disruption to the simple act of going to school.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.

Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.

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