Should I Send My Child to School During COVID-19? Advice for Parents

Published on in Health Tip of the Week

Adolescent girl holding books in school hallway Many school districts across the region and around the country are offering families the option to learn in-person (full-time or part-time, depending on the district) or 100% virtually. Determining which option is best for your child will depend on:

  • Your preference and your child's wishes
  • The rate of community transmission of COVID-19 in your area
  • Whether your child's school has the resources to safely open – with physical distancing requirements – and a workable plan to keep students and staff safe at school and during school activities

In states or regions with low virus rates, and a stable or declining rate of infection in the community, it may make sense for many families to send their children back to in-person schooling. In areas with a high rate of infection, virtual learning may be the best option to keep kids safer from COVID-19.

Here, pediatric health experts from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia share considerations for parents to be aware of and safety protocols to look for.

Factors to consider when sending your child back to school

Before you decide how your child will attend school this year, consider:

  • What is the school’s plan around social distancing and masking, how will they monitor this for students, and how will they enforce guidelines with students?
  • How will the school inform families if there is a rise in infections?
  • If your child receives special education services, those services should continue whether your child is learning online or in-person. Make sure you understand how services will be delivered and, if needed, request a new written plan to address your child’s needs.

Social distancing in the classroom

What does social distancing look like in the classroom? This is a hot topic for many school districts and families seeking the safest learning environment for their children.

Children are naturally social beings and are drawn to each other, which makes maintaining adequate distance a challenge. To make it easier for kids to maintain physical distancing, schools may:

  • Only have 50% of students in school at any given time
  • Have classes outside or in larger rooms like a gymnasium or auditorium where kids can spread out more

Face masks and face shields

One of the most effective ways to combat COVID-19 is for everyone – teachers and students alike – to wear face masks at all times in school, on the bus or when near others who do not live with them. The mask must be worn properly – covering both the nose and mouth – to be effective.

Most children can be gradually taught to wear a mask properly. Start practicing in the weeks before school starts to help your child become more comfortable.

For children with disabilities or who have breathing difficulties or phobias, face masks may be intolerable for more than a few minutes at a time. Face shields are a good second choice. The shields cover the child's face and limit the spread of germs.

Face masks and face shields are effective at controlling the spread of viruses when children are well. If your child is sick, they should stay home.

Your child’s level of fear and anxiety

Another thing to consider when determining which option is best for your child is how nervous or anxious your child is about returning to school. If someone they know has been critically ill or died from COVID-19, children may be extremely anxious about the same thing happening to them. 

As you consider all your options, don’t be afraid to ask questions of your school district, local leadership, or pediatrician. Gather information from trusted sources so you can make an informed decision that feels right for your child and family.

More from CHOP’s PolicyLab: Evidence and Considerations for School Reopenings.

Jason A. Lewis, PhD, is a psychologist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Susan E. Coffin, MD, MPH, is an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases; both at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

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