It’s time to head back to school, but many questions about safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic remain. While some parents will opt for virtual learning or home school, others have limited options or prefer for their children to learn face-to-face. Realistically, how can you address parents’ concerns and help them feel more comfortable about sending children back to school? There’s no risk-free plan. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to soothe back-to-school anxiety for the safety and comfort of all.
How to Soothe Back-to-School Anxiety for Parents
The way parents feel about the new school year will directly impact how students feel. And the feelings that students bring into the building will shape the atmosphere of your first weeks back. Use these four tips to reduce parent anxiety and foster a positive atmosphere for teaching and learning.
1. Evaluate your reopening plan.
According to NPR, key considerations for safe reopening include:
- Riding the bus: Aim for limited capacity, social distancing, and masks.
- Entry-to-school: Students with potential symptoms must stay home. The CDC suggests parents check children for symptoms at home. Schools need to become more flexible with attendance and make-up work policies.
- Masking policies: Consistent, correctly worn masks for students (over 2 years of age) and adults should be required. Include time for mask breaks, preferably outdoors.
- In class: Implement social distancing of six feet between desks, limited class sizes, and self-contained cohorts when possible.
- What to do when someone gets sick: Require anyone with symptoms to self-isolate, and collaborate with local health departments for additional guidance.
- Sanitizing surfaces: Focus on hand hygiene and cleaning high-touch surfaces like bathrooms and doorknobs.
Additional tips include:
- As much air flow as possible
- Outdoor recess in small, supervised groups
- No contact sports
- Staggered cafeteria times or in-class dining at desks
- Flexibility and back-up plans to go virtual if the virus surges
Some schools plan to use plexiglass dividers at desks. Many will prohibit parents from venturing beyond the front office, where they will be required to wear masks. Other schools will ask teachers to change classes rather than students, or they won’t change classes at all.
Of course, depending on your budget, student and staff numbers, and other factors, some of these considerations won’t be practical for you. Look at your reopening plans with these suggestions in mind, and do what is feasible and reasonable for you. Both parents and teachers will feel more comfortable knowing that you’ve worked hard to make school as safe as possible.
2. Communicate clearly.
Once you have a plan, it’s vital to communicate that plan clearly to parents. Use existing communication channels like your school website, e-mails, and mass notification text messages and phone calls. Consider adding a FAQ document to your website and sending an additional copy home with students. Use multiple languages if students’ families have preferred languages other than English. The more clearly you communicate, the more comfortable and prepared parents will feel.
Ideally, you solicited feedback from parents as you created your plan. If not, engage parents with online surveys and ongoing-two-way communication as the school year gets underway. Listen and respond to questions and concerns. Ensure all parents and stakeholders have the information they need as schools reopen.
Emphasize that the safety of their children is a priority to all of you. Communicate the message that you are all in this together. Parents, teachers, and administrators must collaborate to keep children (and one another) safe during this challenging school year. Stay open, transparent, responsive, and empathetic.
3. Use visual safety reminders.
Wherever possible, use signage and visuals to communicate safety reminders. Not only is this helpful for children, but it’s also a useful and quick reminder for parents and families.
For example, you may post tape for social distancing and directional arrows like you see in the grocery store. You could also use signs showing how to properly wear a mask, visual instructions for effective handwashing, and so on.
Parents who visit your school and see your safety plan in action will feel more comfortable and confident. Parents feelings about school reopening will trickle down to their children. It’s important to set the tone for a positive start to the year. Although it will look different and some concerns are unavoidable, you can take steps to reduce anxious feelings.
4. Tell parents how they can help.
Finally, tell parents what they can do to help keep their children safe at school. Information and the ability to take useful action help soothe anxiety.
For instance, encourage parents to pack a spare mask in their child’s backpack and wash or change out masks often. Ask parents to monitor their child’s temperature and keep children home if they show possible symptoms. You can also request donations of items like hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes.
Provide parents with resources to help explain safety measures to their children, like the rhyming printable story The Task of the Mask. Ask parents to talk to their children about the new rules you’ve put in place and why they are important.
Final Thoughts: Tips to Soothe Back-to-School Anxiety
Educators, parents, and children alike feel worried and stressed about returning to schools while the COVID-19 pandemic continues. It’s not an ideal situation, and there are no perfect answers or risk-free solutions. Parents and schools must work as partners to keep children safe and help the school year run as smoothly as possible.
You can start by easing parents’ anxiety with a thorough reopening plan, clear communication, and visual safety reminders. Tell parents how they can help and remind them that you are all in this together.