Ten things parents should do to help schools safely reopen

Much of what is being done seems to assume these things will not be done at home — and that is the subject of this piece. Written by Mary Filardo, an education advocate and expert on schools facilities, it recommends 10 things parents can be ready and able to do to support the safe reopening of their children’s schools.

Filardo is a leading national authority on school facility planning, management and public private development. She has written extensively on public school facility issues and developed software to support long-range facilities master planning.

Filardo founded and serves as executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, which provides the District of Columbia and other urban communities with leadership, innovative financing solutions, research, and public policy analysis of school facility issues. She also founded the Building Educational Success Together collaborative, a learning community of urban education reform organizations dedicated to building the public will and capacity to improve urban school facilities so they support high-quality education and community health.

By Mary Filardo

Our nation’s public schools are by far one of the most important places to reopen during the covid-19 pandemic. Millions of children have fallen behind in their education as a result of the pandemic. In some cases, as much as seven months of learning has been lost. And, with nearly 50 million children in public schools each day across the country, without schools opening, parents and guardians cannot get back to work.

The guidance is directed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus in schools. In addition, nearly all states have issued public health guidance for schools about health screening, physical distancing, hand washing, wearing masks, staying home if sick, and the cleaning and ventilation of buildings.

The hard truth is that implementing all of the recommendations is actually infeasible for school districts without strong partnerships with parents and staff. The concerns of staff are being raised and in some districts teachers and staff are at odds about whether and how to reopen.

But lost in the conversation is what parents can and should do to help safely reopening our schools for site-based instruction. Parents need to be fully at the table with districts about when schools should be opened and how they will operate. But here are some items that parents can and should do.

1) Parents need to put together a different back to school kit. Parents need to have a back to school kit that includes five cloth masks that are acceptable to and are comfortable on their children; and they need to have a bottle of hand sanitizer that they keep at school. While states are not mandating masks, (and no masks on children under age 2), masks are recommended to prevent infected droplets from reaching others. School districts will not be able to keep up with supplying disposable masks to the nation’s 50 million students.

2) Parents can take on the responsibility for knowing the health symptoms of covid-19 and screen their children at home. Temperature screenings, which many schools are trying to do, come at a high cost, but are not good detectors of covid-19. Parents already know to screen for many childhood ailments: flu, conjunctivitis, pin worms, lice, etc. They will be good screeners.

3) Parents have to be prepared to keep their children at home if they or anyone in the family has symptoms of covid-19, and to report this to the local health department and school.

4) Parents need to make sure all of their child’s immunizations are up to date and provide the school a doctor’s determination, if their child is in a high-risk category for covid-19.

5) Parents need to prepare their children for a different school experience. They should talk to their children about the need to follow new rules in schools and on school buses for physical distancing, mask wearing, and personal hygiene, and why this is important They can read to children age-appropriate stories, and/or give older students materials to read on covid-19 and public health before returning to school.

6) Parents can make sure their children know about hand washing technique and wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water right before leaving for school, and as soon as they get home from school.

7) If the family is able, they can help the schools with lunch and transportation. Parents can pack lunches, snacks, and water from home and bring and pick up the child from school by private car, to reduce ridership on school buses or public transit.

8) Families can become familiar with the other students and families from their child’s cohort class group from school. How well the families in each class cohort can stay within their cohort and communicate will affect the success of the school year. Families, and family friends, will have to pay particular attention to high school age students who may be most prone to let their guard down and be less-than-cautious in their social interactions.

9) Starting in September and October, parents and guardians should make sure they and their children over 6 months get the flu vaccine. The CDC is particularly concerned that families are protected from this year’s flu so families and schools are not doubly burdened with covid-19 and Influenza.

10) Parents should be prepared to support their children in remote learning if they are quarantined, and they should communicate with the school about their readiness or lack thereof for off-site learning. That includes access to Internet, technology, and the availability of adequate adult supervision for their child at home if schools move to remote or child is quarantined.

Everyone wants schools to reopen in the fall. But reopening and operating our public schools safely depends on schools and families working together in close partnership to get us through this pandemic.

School districts will need financial relief from the federal budget to do their part and states will need to ensure the community spread of the virus is under control. Parents, too, can and must do their part.

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