As students return to school in the coming days, several time-honored reminders are warranted for parents:
- Do your best to have lunches prepared and clothes laid out the night before to reduce morning chaos.
- Be cautious driving near school buses, observe warning lights and keep an eye out for children.
- Establish a daily routine that includes plenty of sleep for both you and your student.
- Remember that a nutritious breakfast and lunch can help students keep their focus on learning during class time.
- Set ground rules for homework, including a specific space for studying without distractions.
Those guidelines apply to the start of any school year. But, of course, this is not a normal school year. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend our sense of normalcy, and that will be evident in school buildings, as well.
The highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has led to a spike in infections throughout the country, and children appear to be more susceptible to the variant than to the original version of the disease. That calls for caution, even as schools and administrators strive for as much normalcy as possible.
Under an order from Gov. Jay Inslee, face masks are required inside school buildings and buses at all K-12 public, private and charter schools. Exemptions are available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or have medical or mental conditions that make mask-wearing difficult.
The situation is not ideal, and it has led to pushback from some parents throughout the state. But Inslee’s orders throughout the pandemic have consistently been upheld by the courts, and complaining will not cause the pandemic to dissipate. Only science-based restrictions and widespread vaccinations will finally get us past the pandemic and allow for the removal of constraints.
Washington now requires all school employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit a medical or religious exemption by Oct. 18. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their final shot, and unvaccinated employees should plan accordingly. Limited exemptions are allowed, and district offices are tasked with assessing requests for those exemptions.
State officials have ordered schools to be open for in-person learning full time, five days a week. Online options vary by district, and parents who have concerns should contact their local school officials.
In addition, schools must have and enforce guidelines for social distancing to slow the spread of the virus as much as possible.
This will mark the third school year that has been altered because of COVID. For younger students, this all appears normal. But there is nothing normal about it, and the goal must be to eventually return to learning without the constant specter of coronavirus hanging over the educational process.
While frustration over mask mandates or other restrictions is understandable, hostility toward the requirements is counter-productive. In states where the school year has started, The Hill reported Monday, at least 90,000 students have been forced into quarantine. And some schools already have been closed to in-person learning.
“Routines are so important for children, and we are all living in a state where routines are impossible to predict,” said Sheila Desai of the National Association of School Psychologists. “So of course with uncertainty comes anxiety.”
Easing that anxiety calls for traditional preparations for the school year — in addition to some new ones.