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Fall 2021: Getting Students Back to School Safely

Elementary School children in classroom wearing protective masks back-to-school 2021

As California schools plan to reopen this fall, many are concerned about how to best protect the health and safety of students and their families. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers in-person learning a high priority for children's healthy development and well-being. However, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is more important than ever to implement practices that support learning and community health.

In Los Angeles County, a mandate to again require masking indoors, regardless of vaccination status, was issued in mid-July. Shortly after, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that all staff and students over age 2 wear masks indoors to prevent community transmission unless a medical or developmental condition prevents their use. The agency also advised that schools should use layers of protection – such as physical distancing, COVID-19 testing, ventilation, cleaning, and disinfecting – to make in-person learning as safe as possible.

“Getting vaccinated and following the recommended protocols to reduce community transmission of COVID-19 is the best way for parents to protect the health and safety of the entire family.”

--Dr. Vishaal Buch, Medical Director at SFCHC

Many school districts in California, including the L.A. Unified School District, now require that all teachers and educational support staff be vaccinated for COVID-19. However, since only children age 12 and over are eligible for the vaccine in the U.S., a large portion of the population in K-12 schools will return to campus unprotected from the virus. So what can parents do to protect their children’s safety?

“Getting vaccinated and following the recommended protocols to reduce community transmission of COVID-19 is the best way for parents to protect the health and safety of the entire family,” advises Dr. Vishaal Buch, Medical Director at San Fernando Community Health Center (SFCHC). “Since children are most likely to become infected from adult family members, all people eligible for the vaccine should get inoculated as soon as possible to prevent outbreaks among school-aged children.”

As federal and local guidance evolves, parents should continue checking with their local school districts for current updates. For example, in accordance with recent guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, LAUSD is requiring both vaccinated and unvaccinated students and employees to participate in baseline and ongoing weekly COVID-19 testing to create a safer environment for in-person instruction.

August Update: Check with your child's school. The city of San Fernando and other Valley public schools are requiring a negative COVID test - for staff and students - prior to return to campus.

Here are some important questions and answers provided by SFCHC health experts:

Is it safe for my child to return to the classroom?

Amid rapidly increasing new cases of coronavirus and concerns about the Delta variant, the California Department of Public Health has issued updated COVID-19 school guidance to ensure all students have access to safe and full in-person instruction. These strategies include vaccines, mask-wearing, ventilation, handwashing, and cleaning. In addition, to reduce COVID-19 rates in the community, the state now recommends:

In addition to emphasizing the effectiveness of wearing masks, the updated guidance considers new information about COVID-19 variants and the potentially harmful effects on students if schools only required unvaccinated students to wear masks, such as stigma, bullying, or isolation.

Will my child need to wear a mask?

To reduce COVID-19 rates in the community, the California Department of Public Health recommends universal masking indoors and optional masking outdoors at K-12 schools. Updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status. Based on local conditions, many schools may be required or opt to implement universal masking for children to attend safe, in-person classes.

Will there be a coronavirus vaccine for children under 12?

Clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine for children are well underway, and health experts say authorization for persons under age 12 could come this winter.

What else can my family do to prepare for in-person learning?  

Where can I find additional resources?

If you have concerns about your child's safety returning to school, now is the time to reconnect with or establish care with a primary health physician. For children, visiting the pediatrician involves more than immunizations and physical health. It is also about finding ways to promote mental health and social-emotional well-being. If you do not have a primary doctor, finding a medical home that best meets your family’s needs is important.

Serving patients throughout the San Fernando Valley, the San Fernando Community Health Center (SFCHC) has been a trusted, patient-centered medical home for the community since 1924. Its designation as a Federally Qualified Health Center allows it to provide state-of-the-art health care services, prevention, and education regardless of income or ability to pay. For more information, visit our main website

For updated guidance on keeping children safe in the classroom, please visit:

CDC Checklists for Going Back to School

AAP Guidance for Schools

County of Los Angeles Public Health Orders

Stacy Geere

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