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Nine tips for starting school during a pandemic

Here are ways to make the next few months a little easier.
From left, teacher Tara Hernandez and students Angel Lozano and Dominic Cuahutenango wear masks and practice social distancing during a summer program this year at Redlands Christian Migrant Association Academy in Wimauma. Similar practices will be used when the regular school year starts in late August.
From left, teacher Tara Hernandez and students Angel Lozano and Dominic Cuahutenango wear masks and practice social distancing during a summer program this year at Redlands Christian Migrant Association Academy in Wimauma. Similar practices will be used when the regular school year starts in late August. [ JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ | Times ]
Published Aug. 4, 2020
Updated Aug. 5, 2020

BACK TO SCHOOL 2020 | Click to scroll down for more

This list is gleaned from interviews, school district materials, advice from educators and child psychologists, crowd-sourced input and more than a dozen years’ experience assembling back-to-school information for Tampa Bay families. We hope this is helpful.

1. Stay informed.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that conditions can change quickly. Checking your school district’s website, signing up for district notifications or joining a school-related Facebook group can help you stay on top of things.

Hillsborough

Pinellas

Pasco

Hernando

2. Leave the great mask debate behind.

Masks are required on buses and inside school buildings, period. Tampa Bay area districts will give out free ones to help families comply. Students will get “mask breaks.” But, in general, the expectation to wear a mask will be strong.

3. Take two.

On the topic of masks, give your child two for the school day, in case the first one gets lost or dirty. At home, leave containers at the door for clean and dirty masks. Experts advise washing cloth masks after every use.

4. Answer questions.

When children want to know something about the pandemic, make time to address their concerns honestly. Having the information will give them a feeling of control and reduce fear. The National Association of School Psychologists has a COVID-19 resource center on its website, nasponline.org. It offers a wealth of information on how to care for and talk to kids during this time. Among their tips: explain social distancing, stay positive, keep a daily routine.

5. Give them space.

If your child is going to school online and doesn’t need special accommodations, try not to hover or help them with their work. To struggle and make mistakes is to learn.

6. Test your packaging.

For young children who bring lunch to school, practice opening the packaging. If cafeteria staff have to help with hard-to-open items, that’s more touching that nobody needs right now.

7. Stay attuned to your child’s mental health.

Assistance is out there, starting with school district help lines and websites: Hillsborough (813-272-4787); Pinellas (727-588-6307); Pasco (pasco.k12.fl.us/mental_health); Hernando (hernandoschools.org/departments/student-services).

8. Get involved.

If you’re not a parent who typically engages with your child’s school, now could be a good time to start. Staying in regular contact with teachers is more important than ever, whether your child is going to back to campus or learning online.

9. This won’t be perfect. No matter what.

Tell yourself that right now, and know a little patience can go a long way. Everyone is making do and pushing through to a better day.

____________________

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More back-to-school coverage

WHAT TO EXPECT: Back to school in Tampa Bay: Big plans, many unknowns

VIRTUAL CHALLENGE: Many kids will be learning remotely again. What we learned last spring.

NEW CONCERNS: Tampa Bay parents ‘make the best of a bad situation’ as school year nears

SAVING MONEY: Florida’s back-to-school sales tax holiday starts Friday. Here’s what’s covered.

BY THE NUMBERS: Tampa Bay school districts at a glance for 2020-21

CLOSE QUARTERS: Masks will be vital on school buses, where distancing is difficult

STAYING SAFE: Eluding the virus while at school: a Q&A with health experts

STRESS REDUCTION: Talk openly to your kids about school and the pandemic, experts say

STUDENT VOICES: Online or on-campus? What Tampa Bay kids are saying about school and the virus.

TAKING STOCK: Events to help your kids get ready for school

HOT ITEM: Face masks are on everyone’s back-to-school supplies list

EATING RIGHT: Need ideas for healthy school lunches? A nutrition expert weighs in.

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage