August is when we start to think about the upcoming school year. But so far, August looks like it will hold more uncertainty and anxiety. Even if schools reopen, parents may opt to redshirt the year.

Will Schools Reopen?

Whether your child's school will reopen or not depends somewhat on where you live. You can find state-by-state information about school reentry in this list.

Of course, a lot can change between now and late August, depending on how well we follow social distancing guidelines. States that have experienced a second wave of coronavirus cases are likely to reconsider their current approach to reopening schools this fall.

Parents should pay close attention to their local news from now until September to stay abreast of the most up-to-date information about their school district.

What Will School Look Like This Fall?

One thing is for sure — the 2020-21 school year will be drastically different from all previous academic years.

Connecticut and New Jersey are reopening this fall. These states are among the first to release formal guidelines for reopening.

A brick-and-mortar education will likely encompass required temperature checks, face coverings, and social distancing measures. But, beware of distinctions between how districts execute and enforce safety guidelines.

Is It Safe to Send My Kids to School This Fall?

Unfortunately, conflicting opinions from respected institutions, disparities in reopening procedures, and patchwork reentry means that a single answer about school safety will be difficult to obtain. For now, the answer to the question all parents are asking — “is it safe to send my kids to school this fall?” — depends on who you ask.

The California Teachers Association (CTA) wrote a letter to government officials and school leaders recently, arguing that it is not safe to reopen schools in California in the next six to eight weeks.

According to the CTA, "from a public health perspective, the best course of action would be to focus on improving our ability to provide robust, quality distance learning until the virus is marginalized and safety measures are addressed."

A recent uptick in cases throughout the state contextualizes their position as well as concerns about overall preparedness.

Conversely, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates for a return to in-person education so long as schools address their safety guidelines and social distancing recommendations. In their COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-Entry, the AAP argues that prolonged time away from school makes it harder to identify learning deficits, physical abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse, depression, and suicidal ideation. They also cite concerns about the impact of school closures on child food security and physical activity.

However, many teachers feel that their districts cannot afford to implement safety guidelines to the extent recommended by public health institutions.

Consequently, parents will continue to wonder just how safe it is to send their kids back to school. Case in point: some schools are already experiencing a decline in kindergarten registration.

How Can Parents Make a Good Decision about School This Fall?

Parents face a momentous task this fall. Most will need to weigh the safety of returning to school against the cost of a delayed return to work, the cost of extending child care, and the impact of lost instructional time.

Here are a few points to consider:

  • Gather information about the legalities of redshirting or homeschooling this year.
  • Educate yourself about the number of coronavirus cases in your school district.
  • Consider how well your children can learn independently; get their teacher’s opinion.
  • Evaluate your ability to supplement your child's education.
  • Think about how much social interaction your kids need and how they will get it.
  • Think about your family's unique health risks.
  • Speak to your pediatrician about your concerns; get your pediatrician’s opinion.
  • Review your budget and determine the options you can afford.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 will leave its mark on families this fall.

Final Advice for Parents

Parents should focus on evaluating evidence when it comes to making decisions about the safety of sending their kids back to school, not opinions. Beyond safety and legal considerations, parents should also consider the advice of their child’s pediatrician and teachers, their family's budget, best interests, and of course, their feelings about whether it is worth going back to school this fall.