Schools will be back in session soon! Back to school season is different this year. Choosing the first-day outfit, organizing school supplies, and finding your classroom is stressful enough.  Now our kids are concerned with cleaning, distance from friends, and if sports and activities are happening.

Local schools are developing their own reopening and response plans. They are taking proactive steps, such as hiring additional staff for cleaning, improving air systems, and assigning seats to decrease exposure. Some of our local schools will offer a blend of remote and in-class learning, and others are still working to determine what is best for staff and students.

Remote learning has its drawbacks and can affect both children and their families. Children tend to learn better in school settings, and school closures can negatively affect students’ mental health and even access to food. School closures also affect parents’ ability to work and many parents do not have the tools to help with remote learning. As remote learning impacts entire families, many school districts are planning to return to in-class learning. 

In-class learning also comes with risks during the pandemic. Although school-aged children tend to have mild symptoms, some may develop   other health problems linked to COVID-19. There is also evidence that younger children may be “super spreaders”, carrying more of the virus in their throat and nose than adults and possibly passing the virus more easily. As cleanliness can be a challenge for kids, the basic prevention tasks (e.g., hand washing, keeping distance, covering coughs, and correctly wearing a face cover) can also be difficult to ensure and reinforce with children.

Although sending your kids back to school can seem scary, there are steps you can take to ensure your child is ready for in-class learning during COVID-19:

  • Educate your children about handwashing, social distancing, and properly wearing (and not touching) face coverings. Be clear about the risks, but also highlight the steps that they can take to reduce COVID-19 spread.
  • Get involved in your school district’s COVID-19 planning. Some local schools are holding on-line meetings to get feedback on their reopening plans – attend, ask questions, and give comments, if possible. Make sure your school has clear guidelines requiring sick students, staff, and teachers to stay home, and verify that face cover use is required and enforced.
  • Connect with your kids and make sure their questions are answered and concerns are noted. Also, make sure they have the tools to protect themselves and their loved ones. Listen to their concerns and be ready with support when a classmate tests positive.

There are local resources available for parents. School reopening resources are available on the Montana State website, and there are links to Gallatin County public schools’ COVID-19 reopening plans accessible through the Health Gallatin website.

We all play a part, and our individual actions can have big rewards or consequences. Stay thorough and teach your kids about their role in slowing the spread of COVID-19.