A pediatrician's guide to a healthy return to school this fall

Masked kids in line outside a school

With schools scheduled to reopen this fall, it’s time for parents to make sure their children are ready to return to the classroom. When it comes to their child’s health, that means scheduling physicals and immunizations. It also includes COVID-19 considerations to keep the return to school as healthy and stress-free as possible.

COVID-19 and Your Child

For parents of kids ages 12 and up, the most important step before school starts is to have your children immunized with a COVID-19 vaccine. The second most important thing is to get immunized yourself, and encourage all adults who will be around your children to get the COVID-19 vaccine, too.

Why? Data shows that if you immunize adults, you’ll see a dramatic drop in the risk of children getting COVID-19. If 65% to 70% of adults can be fully immunized, the likelihood of children getting it goes way down.

Children 11 and younger (who aren’t eligible yet to be vaccinated), have a much lower risk of acquiring COVID-19 and less likelihood of spreading it. If your child’s going to a school that requires symptom screening for all adults and kids entering the school, and if the school maximizes its ventilation with open windows or an air-handling system to minimize stagnant air, there isn’t much that a parent needs to do for this age group except to teach their child how to wear a mask properly inside.

Screenings should ask about your child’s symptoms: Do you have a sore throat? Are you coughing? Having trouble breathing? Have you lost your sense of taste or smell? Have you been having chills or fever? Are you feeling unusually fatigued or tired? Many schools are doing this online, or when the child arrives at school.

If you’re worried about COVID-19 because of the incidence of it in your community, or for other reasons, have your child wear a mask to reduce your anxiety. But if the incidence is below 1% test positivity rate and the school is screening, the likelihood of your child getting COVID-19 is extremely low.

Continue encouraging your kids to wash their hands frequently, which is helpful with COVID-19 and also with flu and other viruses that cause colds and can lead to pneumonia.

Keep Up with Other Immunizations

About 20% of kids are behind on other immunizations as a result of the pandemic. To fully protect your kids against routine childhood illnesses, they should be seen by their pediatric provider to make sure their immunizations are up to date. These vaccines will protect your kids from:

  • Chicken pox
  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
  • HPV (human papilloma virus, which can cause several types of cancer)
  • Flu
  • Pneumococcal vaccine (to protect against bacterial pneumonia, blood infection and ear infection, among other serious illnesses)
  • Meningitis vaccine

Get Your Physical

The school physical isn’t just about listening with a stethoscope or immunizations. As pediatricians, we also look at the child's behavior and developmental assessment to help you prepare your child for the rigors of the school environment.

We can help you identify if your child needs extra help to be successful in school, and how to arrange getting that help. Your child will get vision and hearing tests, as well as screenings for depression and other behavioral screenings. These are done at age-appropriate times to ensure your child is hitting developmental milestones.

The Sports Physical

This physical makes sure your child can participate to the fullest extent possible in school sports. We’ll do appropriate screenings to approve whether it’s safe for your child to do activities.

Communicate with Your Child’s Teachers

Teachers are part of your child’s team. Let the teachers know about any needs your child has, and ask the teacher over the course of the school year what your child might need from you. Teachers spend a significant amount of time with your kids and are important allies in helping children achieve all that they can.

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson, MD

Daniel Johnson, MD, is an expert in pediatric infectious diseases and in the care of HIV-infected children. Dr. Johnson is committed to the development of community-based pediatric care in underserved areas, accomplished through partnerships with federally qualified health clinics and community hospitals.

Learn more about Dr. Johnson