Preparing to Go Back to School During COVID-19
Many children are looking forward to going back to school in the fall and the opportunity to return to in-person learning. Children with lupus and their caregivers understandably may have some concerns about returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have put together some information to help children with lupus and their families successfully transition to in-person learning.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children and adolescents can get sick and transmit COVID-19 to others. Studies showed the teens and children who get the virus are more likely to be asymptomatic (meaning they have no symptoms and don’t feel sick), or develop mild or nonspecific symptoms. When children are sick, their illness is often not as severe compared to adults. Still, children — particularly those who are in high-risk groups due to autoimmune diseases like lupus — and their families need to take precautions to ensure a safe transition back to school.
For In-Person Attendance
Review your local school or district's plan to reduce COVID-19 risk
Research your school or school district's plans for starting in-person learning in the fall. According to the CDC, there are four main areas you should focus on for schools' plans to reduce the spread of COVID-19. They are:
- Promote behaviors that prevent the spread of the virus, such as multilayer prevention strategies that include vaccination, social distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks.
- Maintain a clean and healthy environment for students and staff, including proper ventilation and frequently cleaned and disinfected surfaces.
- Maintain healthy operations of the school, such as staggering students schedules and reducing classroom sizes.
- Encourage students and staff to stay home if they feel unwell and encourage testing for COVID-19.
Use the CDC's Decision-Making Tool for Parents and Guardians to assist you in your decision on whether to send your child back to in-person school.
If your child is old enough (12 and up) to receive the Pfizer vaccine, talk with your child’s doctor about getting them vaccinated. As of now, Pfizer is the only vaccine authorized for youth between the ages of 12 and 18.
Please note, your child is fully vaccinated two weeks after their last dose; two weeks after the second and final shot for Pfizer and Moderna and two weeks after a single-shot of Johnson & Johnson.
Communicate with your child's health care team before making final decisions
Parents and guardians should communicate with their child's health care team before returning to in-person learning. Your child's health care team can help you decide, based on your child's condition, whether it is safe or not to do so. If you both decide it is safe, they can provide additional guidance on how to ensure there is minimal risk to your child. If you both decide it is unsafe, they can provide a doctor's note that allows your child to participate in alternative methods of learning without penalty.
Wear a mask at all times in and around the school building
Both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children over the age of 2 wear face masks at school whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated. Consistent and proper mask wearing (for those ages 2 and up) reduces virus transmission rates. Advise your child to keep their mask on at all times while at school. Read more about the recommendations from CDC and AAP.
Attempt to maintain social distance
The CDC recommends schools maintain at least a 3 feet distance when possible, which may be difficult in a school environment. Advise your child to do their best to keep as much distance as possible between them and their classmates and school staff. Close interactions, including hugs and other forms of physical contact, should be avoided.
Wash hands frequently
Encourage your child to wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching their face while at school. If soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used in its place.
Stay on alert for symptoms of COVID-19
Look out for any symptoms of COVID-19 in both your child and anyone else your child lives with. According to the CDC, common symptoms of COVID-19 in children include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Body ache
Many children have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all while infected with COVID-19. If your child or anyone in your household has symptoms of COVID-19 or were exposed to someone with the virus, it is best to keep your child home until the people in your household have received a negative COVID-19 test. Read more information on what to do if you or someone in your household has COVID-19 symptoms.
If your child is going to college and will stay on campus, it is important they follow CDC and school guidelines to ensure they remain well. The CDC still recommends maintaining a six-feet distance and wearing a mask for unvaccinated people. The CDC released a toolkit for those 18 to 24 for them to stay informed.
For Virtual Learning
If your child is unable to return to in-person learning, the following strategies may help to make virtual learning a success.
Try to create a distraction-free learning environment
If possible, find a well-lit space in your home where your child can do their schoolwork without distractions, noises, or clutter. Ideally, they could do their work on a flat surface like a desk, table, or portable lap table. Speak with your child's teacher or school staff to find out what kind of technology they need in order to best do their schoolwork from home.
If you’re strapped for ideas on how to create a space for your child, check in with other parents online or in a social-distanced setting to discuss what can work.
Communicate with school staff the limitations lupus might cause your child
Although your child is learning from home, there may be times when lupus prevents them from fully participating on a given day. Just as you would during an in-person school year, communicate with your child's school about the possible limitations that lupus might create for them. This could include doctor appointments that take them away from class, as well as extreme fatigue or pain that may require them to stay in bed.
Create a routine
Work with your child to create a schedule based on their school day that you both agree to maintain so they can find some normalcy in virtual learning. Include space for breaks, relaxation, and family time so your child has something to look forward to throughout the day.
Monitor mental health
In-person school does not just serve as a place to learn — it is also an opportunity for children to socialize and make friends. Without that structure, your child may struggle emotionally. Virtual learning itself may also be a difficult transition. That, along with anxiety caused by the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, may heighten negative emotions in your child. Check in on their mental health and help them find healthy outlets for those emotions, such as journaling, talking to friends on the phone, and getting active. Read more on how to cope with the stress and emotional strain of COVID-19.
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