Children's Hospital Colorado

Q&A: Back to School in Year Two of the COVID Pandemic

Child wearing a mask and raising her hand

Editor's note: This page was updated on Sept. 16, 2021. Please follow all rules and guidelines set by state and local public health and safety authorities. Reference the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and your local public health agency for immediate updates.

With the new, more contagious delta variant driving COVID-19 cases in Colorado and nationwide, parents face some challenging questions as schools begin in 2021: How will the year play out, and what are the best ways to protect children at school during the COVID-19 pandemic?

At Children’s Hospital Colorado, we want to help parents and caregivers make informed decisions based on facts and science. We also acknowledge that every family’s situation is different, and decisions about schooling are personal. To help your family navigate this schoolyear’s ongoing challenges, we consulted our experts on frequently asked questions from real parents.

But before we get into back-to-school FAQs, it’s helpful to look back at where we’ve been – and how far we’ve come.

Where we’ve been

Since March 2020, families’ lives, plans and daily routines have shifted, sometimes drastically. During months of lockdowns, online learning, disruption and isolation, parents and children have been under stress. Kids’ rates of depression and anxiety rose substantially, spurring Children’s Colorado to declare a state of emergency for youth mental health. We’ve seen firsthand what we knew all along: that in-person school is a key component of children’s ability to learn and develop in a healthy way, and that social interaction is important for kids’ mental health.

Now think back to August 2020: Many states were still emerging from stay-at-home orders. Mask mandates had been put in place just weeks prior to school starting. Parents were concerned about whether their kids would get used to wearing masks, even to the grocery store. Vaccines against COVID were being rigorously studied, but we didn’t know when they would become available.

Where we are now

Now, states have reopened and restrictions have loosened. Safe and effective vaccines against COVID are widely available in the U.S. – but only for people ages 5 and up. A year later, we also know much more about COVID-19, including how it spreads and which interventions are most effective. While no one wants to wear a mask all the time, we’re also used to them, and we know they work.

Getting kids back in the classroom is a beacon of hope for many parents. Yet as newer, more contagious variants of COVID-19 circulate, a substantial portion of Colorado’s population remains unvaccinated, including everyone under 12. For these reasons, going back to school is a source of anxiety for many others.

Understandably, most of us just want the pandemic to be over. But it isn’t – yet. That’s why this school year won’t be “back to normal” quite yet either. Here are some of the most common questions from parents and answers from our experts to help guide you in the schoolyear to come.

The importance of in-person learning

Keeping kids safe at school

Preparing for the school day

Symptoms and testing

Additional FAQs

Stay up-to-date

In addition to looking to your school for updates, you can stay updated about COVID-19 in Colorado and in your community by checking information from CDPHE. Most local public health departments also share coronavirus news and data on their websites and social media accounts.

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