As vaccines for COVID-19 roll out, many school districts are planning to return to in-person instruction at the start of the 2021 school year. Some schools are ahead of the game and have already returned to in-person learning.
Even so, many of us are still wondering: is it safe for kids to go back to school?
States that have issued mandates and are offering in-person learning include Washington,
Oregon, Iowa, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, West Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. Additionally, Massachusetts and Arizona have issued partial reopening as of May 2021. Some other states are trying to implement safe school policies to bring back in-person learning such as California and New York.
With this trajectory, it seems inevitable that most schools will be back in action by the fall.
So, how can we help get students ready to go back to school?
I think many of us can agree this pandemic has not been easy. In honor of mental health awareness month (May), we want to address the mental toll COVID-19 has taken specifically on kids and their caregivers.
Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health
The pandemic has made kids even more susceptible to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression.
While many parents certainly experience these same feelings, they also might be dealing with anxiety that childcare will result in penalization at work. On top of that, they may be grieving lost loved ones and friends whose lives were taken by COVID-19.
Unfortunately, many US educators are mourning the deaths of colleagues due to the pandemic.
It’s difficult to know how many educators have lost their lives due to COVID-19, but some estimate around 700 educators and school district staff. This of course takes an unimaginable mental toll on both students and colleagues.
Mental Health Support at Home
That said, it’s important to maintain a positive environment for children at home. To support their mental health, consider doing the following:
- Give them breaks for playtime and rest
- Validate their feelings and emotions
- Provide opportunities for healthy communication
We know it’s tough for parents and caregivers to balance telework with childcare. You’re not alone! If you’re struggling, remember there are mental health resources and support groups available.
Here are some helpful resources:
- SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)- 24/7 hotline for those struggling with mental and substance abuse disorders.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) for those seeking mental health services and support groups.
The Mask Question
Back to the question of safety in schools, many want to know: Is it okay for students not to wear a mask?
Younger Students vs. Older Students
There are a few factors to keep in mind here.
First off, can we expect younger students to wear masks for one whole day? Imagine 6 and 7 year-olds successfully taking preventative measures and wearing masks while taking part in rowdy school activities.
Can we expect teachers to regulate mask wear all day? This might pose some challenges.
Also, there’s the matter of vaccinations. The authorization of both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently only authorized for ages 18 and up, and Pfizer’s vaccine for 12 and up.
Though they’ve started clinical trials, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved vaccinations for age groups younger than 16. However, it is likely that we will see at least middle schoolers (12–16-year-olds) getting vaccinated before the fall of 2021.
What about athletics? This is a major part of school spirit not to mention the many students who rely on sports scholarships for college.
According to the CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated people can “gather or conduct activities outdoors without wearing a mask except in certain crowded settings or venues.” That might mean that sports will be a go for vaccinated students this fall.
Wearing a mask is a divisive question when deciding to bring students back into the classroom safely. The only thing we can do is keep an open mind and follow the ever-evolving guidelines to combat transmission.
For the most part, students will still be indoors. Fully vaccinated or not, the CDC still mandates that individuals take preventative measures such as social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing hands often.
Therefore, it’s still a good idea to wear face masks, and it’s important to look for the safest and best masks for kids at schools.
We know going back to school this year will be different.
Students will need more than physical preparations such as school supplies. They’ll need mental preparation as well.
It’s important to remember mental health does not discriminate with age groups and anyone is susceptible to experiencing mental health breakdowns.
Remember, we are in this together! No one is alone in this and there are multiple resources available to prepare us for success as we get students back to school.
Need help with back-to-school supplies for your student? Contact these helpful organizations:
- Kids in Need Foundation: https://www.kinf.org/contact-us/
- ORÅ Brand’s Back to School Safely Campaign helps supply masks to schools and communities to help alleviate financial worry