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Staying Safe in School During COVID-19

In-Person School During COVID-19 In-Person School During COVID-19

Two years ago, students had their world turned upside down. Schools closed their doors because of COVID-19, a dangerous new virus that spread quickly through communities worldwide. Since then, we have learned a lot.

One of the biggest lessons: in-person school is best for children and teens. Students get more than education at school. Many also get vital resources they need to thrive at school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends making safe, in-person school a priority during the pandemic.

While COVID-19 continues to spread, with more than 1.1 million cases of COVID-19 recently reported in a single week in children, we now have many more tools to keep kids safely in school.

To keep everyone healthy, multiple tools should be used. That includes COVID-19 vaccines for everyone who is eligible, along with universal masking, physical distancing, washing hands and staying home when sick. These steps are even better when combined with good ventilation, testing/screening and contact tracing in the school community.

Tools to keep schools open during the pandemic

Keeping students in schools starts with local, state and federal policies and guidance backed by science. To make it work, everyone has to do their part so students and staff stay healthy and physically together in school:

COVID-19 vaccines

The AAP recommends COVID vaccination for everyone 5 years old and older. Children should get fully immunized as soon as they are eligible.

Kids who are fully vaccinated are at a much lower risk of getting seriously sick from COVID-19. Fully vaccinated kids don't have to spend more time away from learning, friendships sports and other activities that are important to their physical and mental health.

Even if your child has recovered from COVID-19 illness, they should get the vaccine. Everyone eligible should get the vaccine.

Face masks

The AAP recommends universal masking in school, with special attention to indoor masking. Face masks can stop the virus from spreading to those who may be at higher risk of getting sick. Spread of the virus has been observed more often in schools that did not require universal masking.

While COVID-19 vaccines greatly reduce the risk of getting very sick or dying from the variants, fully vaccinated people can still become infected and spread the virus to others. That is one reason why everyone over age 2 years should keep wearing a mask that covers the nose and mouth. COVID-19 variants that are circulating are more contagious. As a bonus, masks can help stop the spread of other infections like the common cold or the flu.

The mask should fit well and be worn correctly and consistently. Most children with medical conditions can wear face masks with practice, support and role-modeling by adults. Ask your pediatrician if:

  • you need help choosing a mask or personal protective equipment that offers the best fit and comfort based on a child's medical or developmental needs or

  • you have concerns that a mask cannot be worn and to explore all options.

Physical distancing

Students—including those who are fully vaccinated—should remain at least 3 feet apart within classrooms when possible.

Also when possible, schools should use outdoor spaces and unused indoor spaces for instruction and meals to help with distancing. Activities like singing, band and exercising, for example, are safest if done outdoors and individuals are spread out.

COVID testing

Everyone should get tested. If possible, schools should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools. Tests can be used in two ways:

  • To screen for the virus: Screening testing can be used to identify infected people with or without symptoms. Screening can also identify people who might be contagious before symptoms appear. Early identification and isolation can help slow the spread of COVID-19.

  • To diagnose COVID: Diagnostic testing can help determine if someone has COVID-19 after a recent known or suspected exposure to the virus.

Limiting exposure

Right now, COVID-19 is still spreading and new virus variants are circulating. Even if schools use all the tools, they need to plan for exposures. Here are some questions parents have.

Are there ways to keep kids safe during mealtime (school lunchtime, etc.)?

Yes. Schools can require masks and distancing in food service lines, keep students at least six feet apart when eating, and have them put masks back on after eating. Schools also can add more ventilation and use outdoor space.

What if a child develops symptoms at school?

If a child has symptoms at school, they should be picked up right away so that they can isolate. The CDC also recommends that parents arrange for a COVID-19 test. It is very important that children not attend in-person school when they have signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

What is the recommendation for isolation and return to school for a student with COVID??

Isolation for 5 days is recommended by the CDC. In these circumstances, testing may be available through the school or your child's pediatrician. In the absence of a test, students who have symptoms should isolate for five days. On Day 6, students who are free of symptoms and fever free for 24 hours without fever reducing medication can return with proper and consistent use of face masks for an additional five days.

Other considerations

In addition to safety plans, there are other issues that school communities need to address:

Students at higher risk

School closures and remote learning presented challenges for many students. Talk with your pediatrician and school staff (including school nurses) to explore options and be connected to support and resources. For example:

  • If your child has any chronic, high-risk medical conditions, they may need extra accommodations to stay safe.

  • If your family or student is affected by housing insecurity, food insecurity or access to high-speed internet and devices to complete schoolwork at home.

  • Students with disabilities may still have a hard time transitioning to in-school learning and missed instruction time. Or they may have had less access to school-based services such as occupational, physical and speech-language therapy or mental health support counseling. Schools should review the needs of each child with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), and provide services even if virtual.

Immunizations and wellness exams

Your child should be up-to-date on all recommended immunizations, including the flu vaccine. Routine childhood and adolescent immunizations can be given with COVID-19 vaccines or in the days before and after. Getting caught up will avoid outbreaks of other illnesses that could keep your kids home from school.

Behavioral health and emotional support

Millions of children have been impacted by loss and death due to COVID-19.

Your child's school should be prepared to support a wide range of mental health needs during the pandemic. This includes recognizing signs of anxiety or distress. Students may be grieving loved ones lost to COVID-19, for example, or feeling the stress of lost family income. Schools also can help students with suicidal thoughts or behavior get needed support.

The personal impact of the pandemic on school teachers and staff also should be recognized.

Organized activities

Special safety steps should be considered for sporting events, practices, and other extracurricular activities to help them continue uninterrupted.


Vision and hearing screening and oral health programs should continue in schools, when possible. These services help identify children in need of treatment as soon as possible so health issues don't interfere with learning.


As the pandemic continues, schools are able to provide free meals to all children, regardless of household income, through June 2022. Many students receive healthy meals through school meal programs. Check with your school district for more information. Schools should provide meal programs even if the school is closed or the student is sick and stays home from school.

Why safe, in-person school is so important

The benefits of in-person school are much greater than the risks in almost every way. Schools are safe, stimulating, and enriching places to be while parents or guardians are working.

Families, schools, and communities can work together to help ensure students can safely remain physically together in school, where they need to be. This includes making sure everyone who is eligible gets the COVID-19 vaccine, influenza vaccine and other routine childhood and adolescent vaccines. It means wearing a face mask, staying home when we are sick and doing what we can to keep others safe around us. When everyone does their part, the whole community wins.

More information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2022)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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