Back-to-School Preparation
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2021

Back-to-School Preparation

Can anyone else hardly believe summer is almost over? This school year has certainly snuck up on me. Like many parents, I’ve started to think about “back to school.” We have inventoried the kids’ clothes and shoes to see what they need. We have made sure lunchboxes, water bottles, and backpacks are in good working order. As you may suspect, this year, like last year, requires a little extra preparation due to COVID-19.

Have your child wear a mask. The Vermont Department of Health has recommended that schools require masks for all student regardless of vaccination status and that mask use becomes optional for vaccinated students only after 80 percent of the students are vaccinated against COVID. Schools are working to develop their policies now and should be releasing them soon. While they are not required to follow the state’s guidance, I strongly hope they will. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all K - 12 schools require masks for all students regardless of vaccination status. In line with AAP guidance, I highly recommend that you mask your child at school regardless of their vaccination status.

For older students who got vaccinated in anticipation of no longer having to wear masks, this step backward may come as a major disappointment. It is an excellent lesson in resilience. While things don’t always work out just as we hope, we can persevere!

Keep your child home when they are sick. Hopefully, if everyone masks, as they did last year, we will have very low levels of illness in general. Still, it has never been more important for parents to keep children home when they are sick. In the distant past, you may have kept your child home only if they had a fever, were vomiting, or if they had diarrhea. This year, as last year, it will be important to keep them home if they have any symptoms including fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, vomiting, or diarrhea. Return-to-school guidelines for this school year should be similar to last year’s and released soon.  

Know where you can get tested. The schools will be working with the Vermont Department of Health to complete contact tracing for all positive tests, just as they did throughout the last school year. Be prepared for that call by knowing where you can go to get a COVID test. Check and the Vermont Department of Health website for convenient testing locations.

EVERYONE who is eligible should get vaccinated. While your child may not be eligible to be vaccinated yet, it is important to get every eligible person in the household vaccinated. Remember that those who are vaccinated don’t need to quarantine after an exposure unless they test positive, and vaccinated individuals who do get sick have less chance of hospitalization and of severe course of illness. Check and the Vermont Department of Health website for COVID vaccine appointments and clinics.

Choose optimism. Being back in school, even with masks, is far better for our kids than the isolation and stress of learning at home. Know that everyone—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, our state departments of health, and our schools—will advise us that we don’t need the masks as soon as they can do so safely. Pandemics don’t last forever, so hang in there. If you or your child are having difficulty managing the stresses of going back to school or just living life during this remarkable time, ask for help. You can access help through your child’s pediatrician, your child’s school, your primary care provider, or locally, United Counseling Service.

By making the choice to follow expert recommendations about COVID-19, we protect ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and our communities. Working together, we can make this school year fun, educational, and safe.

Meghan Gunn, MD, is a pediatrician and the chair of the department of Pediatrics at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.


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