By, Dr. Naomi Bardach, Safe Schools for All team lead

California school districts are close to fully reopening for the 2021-22 school year. Seventeen of the 20 largest districts have reopened with the other three on schedule to reopen soon. By implementing the right precautions, such as wearing masks indoors, parents can feel confident about their children being back in school for full, in-person learning.

With the help of scientists and medical professionals, we have gathered a lot more information about the coronavirus since it first hit America more than a year ago and those learnings are being applied to the new school year. It is imperative that we work together to support learning and growth for all students by fully reopening schools, which play a vital role in our communities. 

Living with the virus has become our reality and we are learning to adapt. There will continue to be challenges this school year but with a multi-layered strategy in place — testing, vaccinations, masking, improved ventilation — we are confident this is the best path to safely returning to in-person learning.

As we dig into the school year, there are several things that parents should keep top of mind that will directly impact their children’s safety and well-being. Here are five key areas that I recommend paying close attention to.

Vaccinations remain key to COVID-19 prevention in kids.

Medical research has shown that children are less likely to catch the coronavirus than older students and adults. Most children contract the virus from a close relative in their home, not from other students or school personnel. Vaccines substantially reduce the need for quarantines, especially in middle and high schools.

Remember all teachers and staff in K-12 public and private schools are required to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. 

The requirement to get vaccinated or weekly COVID-19 testing applies to the state’s 320,000 public school teachers and more than 250,000 support staff — from cafeteria employees to campus custodians — and at least 80,000 private school employees, according to the California Department of Education and labor unions. It will also pertain to school volunteers. These individuals will set the tone on our campuses and ensuring their safety allows for more focus on the students.

School-associated cases are evidence that schools are screening out COVID-19.

Schools are creating safe spaces through layered approaches including testing and contract tracing which supports identifying cases, in addition to sending ongoing notifications to keep parents updated. Vaccinations for anyone 12 years of age and older and masks for all students supports schools in being safe spaces for students. 

Schools reopening promotes mental and social-emotional health.

The last year and half has been a long and hard challenge for many of our students. The absence of school structure has led to social isolation and anxiety which severely impacts student’s social and emotional development. Research supports the reopening of schools to promote the mental, social-emotional and academic well-being of students. We must do all we can to mitigate the substantial effects of students remaining out of in-person learning. We want them back doing the things they love – socializing, spending time with their friends and playing sports.

The Delta variant remains a concern. 

The presence of the Delta variant has created a need to increase testing capacity in many schools, although children are not the principal drivers of virus transmission. Vaccination is the best way to protect against the Delta variant. Unvaccinated children may safely return to school, but that makes other protective measures such as masking more important for them. 

For more information and ongoing updates, parents can visit https://schools.covid19.ca.gov/pages/parent-page.