A pediatrician's guide to a healthy return to school this fall

Image of girl getting ready to go to school

As schools reopen for fall, it’s time to make sure your children are ready for a safe return to the classroom. When it comes to your child’s health, that means scheduling physicals and immunizations. It also includes COVID-19 considerations to keep the return to school as healthy and stress-free as possible for students, families, teachers and staff.

Support your child’s physical and mental readiness to learn.

Your child’s school physical is their first step to a healthy start this school year. If you haven’t already, schedule a physical with their pediatrician.

The school physical isn’t just about listening with a stethoscope or immunizations. As pediatricians, we also look at the child's behavior and conduct a developmental assessment to help you prepare your child for the rigors of the school environment.

We can help you identify if your child needs extra help to be successful in school and offer guidance on how to arrange getting that help. Your child will get vision and hearing tests, as well as screenings for depression in addition to other behavioral screenings. These are done at age-appropriate times to ensure your child is hitting developmental milestones.

Help protect kids from illnesses with immunizations.

To help fully protect kids against routine childhood illnesses, pediatricians make sure each child is up to date on their immunizations. These vaccines can keep your child safe from:

  • Chicken pox
  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
  • HPV (human papilloma virus, which can cause several types of cancer)
  • Flu
  • Pneumococcal vaccine (to protect against bacterial pneumonia, blood infection and ear infection, among other serious illnesses)
  • Meningitis (meningococcal vaccine)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B (another virus linked to cancer and severe liver disease)
  • Diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DTaP or the Tdap depending on the age of your child)
  • Polio (the vaccine remains important, especially in light of the recent case in New York where an unimmunized person developed polio that caused paralysis)
  • Hib (this vaccine protects your child against a deadly bacterium that can cause many types of infections)
  • It’s also important to have your child immunized with a COVID-19 vaccine, including the booster when eligible. COVID-19 vaccines are available for children ages 6 months and up. Although it is not required for school enrollment, COVID-19 vaccines are recommended by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. They are safe and effective.

As parents and caregivers, it’s important that you get vaccinated against COVID-19, too. Encourage all adults who will be around your child to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Why? Data shows that if you immunize adults, you’ll see a dramatic drop in the risk of children getting COVID-19. If 65% to 70% of adults can be fully immunized, the likelihood of children getting it goes way down.

Teach and model healthy hand hygiene.

Continue encouraging your kids to wash their hands frequently. This helps with COVID-19 and also with flu and other viruses that cause colds and can lead to pneumonia.

Do not send your child to school with symptoms.

Screen your child for symptoms often. Ask if they have a sore throat. Are they coughing? Having trouble breathing? Have they lost their sense of taste or smell? Have they been having chills or fever? Are they feeling unusually fatigued or tired?

If your child is symptomatic, keep them home to help prevent or reduce the possible spread of viruses. If your child has fall allergies, it may be challenging to know exactly what is causing their symptoms. However, it’s safest to keep them home and discuss any questions with your child’s pediatrician or their allergist, if they have one.

If you choose, have your child wear a mask indoors at school.

Masking is now optional in schools. If you or your child are worried about COVID-19, you may choose to have them wear a mask to reduce anxiety. Each family needs to make the best masking decision for themselves and respect the decisions of others. But if the incidence of COVID is low or moderate in your area or if the school is screening, the likelihood of your child getting COVID-19 is low.

Help protect young athletes against sports injuries and illnesses.

If your student is also an athlete, they should have a sports physical in addition to their school physical. During this type of physical, pediatricians help make sure your child can participate to the fullest extent possible in school sports. We’ll do appropriate screenings to approve whether it’s safe for your child to do activities. It’s also important that parents, caregivers, coaches and kids be aware of signs of common sports injuries and illnesses in young athletes.

Communicate with your child’s teachers.

Teachers are part of your child’s team. Let the teachers know about any needs your child has, including physical and emotional health concerns that may affect them at school. And ask the teacher over the course of the school year what your child might need from you. Teachers spend a significant amount of time with your kids and are important allies in helping children achieve all that they can.

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson, MD

Daniel Johnson, MD, is an expert in pediatric infectious diseases and in the care of HIV-infected children. Dr. Johnson is committed to the development of community-based pediatric care in underserved areas, accomplished through partnerships with federally qualified health clinics and community hospitals.

Learn more about Dr. Johnson

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Pediatric Primary Care