Back-to-School Safety

As summer draws to a close and children start heading back to school, it’s important to remember – and share with your children – some key tips that will help keep them safe and healthy throughout the school year.

It’s that time of year again. As much as we would like to hold on to Seattle summer, with its breezy outdoor fun, fall is almost here. Back-to-school means rain jackets, backpacks and kids spending more time indoors. Like we see almost every year, it’s easy for kids to spread germs like the common cold, influenza and COVID-19, as respiratory viruses are more easily spread indoors.

As parents, we want our kids to be safe and happy in school. We can send our kids to school with greater piece of mind knowing that we’re protecting them and others as best we can. This year’s back-to-school COVID-19 prevention guidance can also help to reduce transmission of other common respiratory viruses such as influenza…Read more on our “Back-to-School & COVID-19: What Parents Should Know” blog here.


Courtesy: IMANI RAZAT, Public Health Insider, Seattle & King County

Schools, ECE programs, and health departments should promote equitable access to vaccination. Staying up to date on routine vaccinations is essential to prevent illness from many different infections. COVID-19 vaccination helps protect eligible people from getting severely ill with COVID-19. For COVID-19, staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations is the leading public health strategy to prevent severe disease. Not only does it provide individual-level protection, but high vaccination coverage reduces the burden of COVID-19 on people, schools, healthcare systems, and communities. Schools, ECE programs, and health departments can promote vaccination in many ways:

  • Provide information about COVID-19 vaccines and other recommended vaccines. Ensure communication meets the needs of people with limited English proficiency who require language services and individuals with disabilities who require accessible formats.
  • Encourage trust and confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Establish supportive policies and practices that make getting vaccinated easy and convenient, for example a workplace vaccination program or providing paid time off for individuals to get vaccinated or assist family members receiving vaccinations.
  • Make vaccinations available on-site by hosting school-located vaccination clinics, or connect eligible children, students, teachers, staff, and families to off-site vaccination locations.

People who have symptoms of respiratory or gastrointestinal infections, such as cough, fever, sore throat, vomiting, or diarrhea, should stay home. Testing is recommended for people with symptoms of COVID-19 as soon as possible after symptoms begin. People who are at risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 who test positive should consult with a healthcare provider right away for possible treatment, even if their symptoms are mild. Staying home when sick can lower the risk of spreading infectious diseases, including COVID-19, to other people. For more information on staying home when sick with COVID-19, including recommendations for isolation and mask use for people who test positive or who are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, see Isolate If You Are Sick.

In accordance with applicable laws and regulations, schools and ECE programs should allow flexible, non-punitive, and supportive paid sick leave policies and practices. These policies should support workers caring for a sick family member and encourage sick workers to stay home without fear of retaliation, loss of pay, loss of employment, or other negative impacts. Schools should also provide excused absences for students who are sick, avoid policies that incentivize coming to school while sick, and support children who are learning at home if they are sick. Schools and ECE programs should ensure that employees and families are aware of and understand these policies and avoid language that penalizes or stigmatizes staying home when sick.

Schools and ECE programs can optimize ventilation and maintain improvements to indoor air quality to reduce the risk of germs and contaminants spreading through the air. Funds provided through the U.S. Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) Programs and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Programs and the Department of Health and Humans Services’ Head Start and Child Care American Rescue Plan can support improvements to ventilation; repairs, upgrades, and replacements in Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems; purchase of MERV-13 air filters, portable air cleaners, and upper-room germicidal ultraviolet irradiation systems; as well as implementation of other public health protocols and CDC guidance. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Air in Buildings Challenge provides specific steps schools and other buildings can take to improve indoor air quality and reduce the risk of airborne spread of viruses and other contaminants. Ventilation recommendations for different types of buildings can be found in the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) schools and universities guidance. CDC does not provide recommendations for, or against, any manufacturer or product.

When COVID-19 Community Levels increase or in response to an outbreak, schools and ECE programs can take additional steps to increase outdoor air intake and improve air filtration. For example, safely opening windows and doors, including on school buses and ECE transportation vehicles, and using portable air cleaners with HEPA filters, are strategies to improve ventilation. Schools and ECE programs may also consider holding some activities outside if feasible when the COVID-19 Community Level is high.

Washing hands can prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Schools and ECE programs should teach and reinforce proper handwashing to lower the risk of spreading viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19. Schools and ECE programs should monitor and reinforce these behaviors, especially during key times in the day (for example, before and after eating, after using the restroom, and after recess) and should also provide adequate handwashing supplies, including soap and water. If washing hands is not possible, schools and ECE programs should provide hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. Hand sanitizers should be stored up, away, and out of sight of younger children and should be used only with adult supervision for children ages 5 years and younger.

Schools and ECE programs should teach and reinforce covering coughs and sneezes to help keep individuals from getting and spreading infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

Schools and ECE programs should clean surfaces at least once a day to reduce the risk of germs spreading by touching surfaces. For more information, see Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility. Additionally, ECE programs should follow recommended procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfection in their setting such as after diapering, feeding, and exposure to bodily fluids. See Caring for Our Children.

Wearing a well-fitting mask or respirator consistently and correctly reduces the risk of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. At a high COVID-19 Community Level, universal indoor masking in schools and ECE programs is recommended, as it is in the community at-large. CDC also recommends masking at all times in healthcare settings, including school nurses’ offices, regardless of the current COVID-19 Community Level. People who have known or suspected exposure to COVID-19 should also wear a well-fitting mask or respirator around others for 10 days from their last exposure, regardless of vaccination status or history of prior infection.

Anyone who chooses to wear a mask or respirator should be supported in their decision to do so at any COVID-19 Community Level, including low. At a medium and high COVID-19 Community Level, people who are immunocompromised or at risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 should wear a mask or respirator that provides greater protection Since wearing masks or respirators can prevent spread of COVID-19, people who have a household or social contact with someone at risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 (for example, a student with a sibling who is at risk) may also choose to wear a mask at any COVID-19 Community Level. Schools and ECE programs should consider flexible, non-punitive policies and practices to support individuals who choose to wear masks regardless of the COVID-19 Community Level.

Schools with students at risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 must make reasonable modifications when necessary to ensure that all students, including those with disabilities, are able to access in-person learning. Schools might need to require masking in settings such as classrooms or during activities to protect students with immunocompromising conditions or other conditions that increase their risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 in accordance with applicable federal, state, or local laws and policies. For more information and support, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Disability Rights webpage. Students with immunocompromising conditions or other conditions or disabilities that increase risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 should not be placed into separate classrooms or otherwise segregated from other students.

Because mask use is not recommended for children ages younger than 2 years and may be difficult for very young children or for some children with disabilities who cannot safely wear a mask, ECE programs and K-12 schools may need to consider other prevention strategies—such as improving ventilation and avoiding crowding—when the COVID-19 Community Level is medium or high or in response to an outbreak. K-12 schools or ECE programs may choose to implement universal indoor mask use to meet the needs of the families they serve, which could include people at risk for getting very sick with COVID-19.

For more information about masks please visit Types of Masks and Respirators.

Everyday in the U.S. more than 40 kids are hit while walking to school.

To stay safe:

  • Children should only walk to school alone if they are old enough and ready to make the walk safely.
  • Children are not ready to walk to school without an adult until they are at least 10 years old.
  • Younger kids cannot be trusted to make smart traffic choices on their own.
  • Plan and practice a safe walking route with your child until she knows it well.
  • Use streets with sidewalks, crosswalks and crossing guards. Avoid as many intersections as possible.
  • Have children walk with a friend or in a group.
  • Talk to your child about what to do if they are approached by a stranger.
  • Don’t walk while distracted, put your phone and/or headphones down
  • Use bright colors if walking at night, avoid dark clothes
  • Look out for careless drivers
  • Avoid walking in the roadway, stay on sidewalks when possible
  • Look for cars backing out of parking spots, driveways, busy streets

Source: Nationwide Children’s Hospital

  • Children riding the bus to school should learn and practice a few safety rules for getting on and off the bus
  • Get to the bus stop early. Do not run to the bus
  • Wait until the bus has come to a complete stop before walking toward it
  • If crossing the street, wait for a signal from the bus driver.  Look both ways to make sure there is no moving traffic from either direction
  • Always cross in front of the bus so the driver can see you
  • If the bus has lap and shoulder belts, use them
  • Once the bus is in motion, remain in your seat
  • If the window is open, keep your arms and head inside the bus at all times
  • Do not stand up to get off the bus until it has completely stopped
  • Only get off the bus at your assigned spot

Source: Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Rules for Driving Near a School Bus in Washington State

  • The driver of a vehicle upon overtaking or meeting from either direction any school bus which has stopped on the roadway for the purpose of receiving or discharging any school children shall stop the vehicle before reaching such school bus when there is in operation on said school bus a visual signal as specified in RCW 46.37.190 and said driver shall not proceed until such school bus resumes motion or the visual signals are no longer activated.
  • The driver of a vehicle upon a highway divided into separate roadways as provided in RCW 46.61.150 need not stop upon meeting a school bus which is proceeding in the opposite direction and is stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children.
  • The driver of a vehicle upon a highway with three or more marked traffic lanes need not stop upon meeting a school bus which is proceeding in the opposite direction and is stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children.
  • The driver of a school bus shall actuate the visual signals required by RCW 46.37.190 only when such bus is stopped on the roadway for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children.
  • The driver of a school bus may stop completely off the roadway for the purpose of receiving or discharging school children only when the school children do not have to cross the roadway. The school bus driver shall actuate the hazard warning lamps as defined in RCW 46.37.215 before loading or unloading school children at such stops.
  • Except as provided in subsection (7) of this section, a person found to have committed an infraction of subsection (1) of this section shall be assessed a monetary penalty equal to twice the total penalty assessed under RCW 46.63.110. This penalty may not be waived, reduced, or suspended. Fifty percent of the money so collected shall be deposited into the school zone safety account in the custody of the state treasurer and disbursed in accordance with RCW 46.61.440(5).
  • An infraction of subsection (1) of this section detected through the use of an automated school bus safety camera under RCW 46.63.180 is not a part of the registered owner’s driving record under RCW 46.52.101 and 46.52.120, and must be processed in the same manner as parking infractions, including for the purposes of RCW 3.50.10035.20.22046.16A.120, and 46.20.270(3). However, the amount of the fine issued for a violation of this section detected through the use of an automated school bus safety camera shall not exceed twice the monetary penalty for a violation of this section as provided under RCW 46.63.110.

Source: Washington State Legislature