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Photo of young girl wearing a protective mask in school.
Back-to-school issues this year will require students to adapt to policies regarding pandemic safety, which differ from one institution to another. Oklahoma public schools educate more than 700,000 students annually, according to State Department of Education data.

Pandemic complicating back-to-school issues

Monday, August 9, 2021

Media Contact: Donald Stotts | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-4079 |

Flexibility will be a key component this year as students and their schools return to an in-person learning environment, said Oklahoma State University Extension experts.

“Oklahoma and most of the nation is experiencing a COVID-19 surge, but how specific school districts and communities may choose to respond to the ongoing pandemic can vary widely,” said Ron Cox, OSU Extension marriage and family specialist. “This is in addition to typical back-to-school issues that can affect students and their families.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided a series of online safety guidelines and explanations for families. Among the many topics discussed:

  • Physical distancing
  • Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
  • Consistent, correct use of masks
  • Cleanliness and maintenance of facilities
  • Contact tracing
  • Daily symptom monitoring

However, familiarity with good practices is only the beginning. The pandemic has put a new twist on student-family issues such as peer pressure, for example. What happens when a parent has told a student to mask up at school to safeguard against possible COVID-19 exposure to an at-risk family member at home, but the youth’s schoolmates are not wearing masks and the school has designated mask-wearing to be optional?

“Effective communication is always key to the family dynamic,” Cox said. “There are differences when speaking to an 8-year-old compared to a teenager. Patience, openness, listening and taking a genuine interest in the child’s opinions and feelings are a good basis from which to start. Don’t put off talking to one another about what happened at school.”

OSU Extension recommends families become familiar with how the child’s specific school is seeking to handle in-person learning during the pandemic. Such information is typically provided on the school’s website. If not, then the parent should inquire, said Cox, holder of the OSU George Kaiser Family Foundation Chair in Child and Family Resilience.

“Mitigate surprises as much as possible,” he said. “Remember that children are not all the same in terms of personality and how they respond to situations. One may be scared. Another may resent the more restrictive school rules. Everyone — children, parents, school staff — is ready for the pandemic to be over, but it’s not.”

Oklahoma’s State Department of Education has provided online resources to assist district and school officials as they make pandemic-related decisions. Be aware the resources are recommendations and not requirements.

Another important consideration is how more than a year of at-home learning may have resulted in some students falling behind in certain subject areas. OSU experts recommend having a family meeting to discuss learning activities and goals.

“Children are resilient, and once back in school, many will catch up quickly,” said Laura Hubbs-Tait, OSU Regents professor of human development and family science. “Tutoring may be a viable option for those who experience difficulties.”

Studies have shown frequent one-on-one tutoring where children and tutors meet daily or several times per week to be more effective than less-frequent tutoring. Tutoring by teachers or paraprofessionals typically works best for students who need to catch up, Hubbs-Tait said.

Another option is to make sure that children who need to catch up receive grade-level materials and lessons while also receiving instruction in content not mastered in previous grades.

“Experts don’t recommend pulling children out of grade-level work in order to get remedial help because this can hinder a child’s progress in school,” Hubbs-Tait said.

Online resources detailing ways to help students with back-to-school issues are available through OSU Extension. Fact sheets featuring additional in-depth information are available online and through all county Extension offices.

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