Kindergarten students wearing face masks sit in their classroom on the first day of in-person learning at Maurice Sendak Elementary School in Los Angeles, California, on April 13, 2021, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As schools across Texas begin, many parents are faced with a pressing questions – how do I safely send my child back to school with the Delta variant raging out of control?

Already, there are more than 1,700 total cases in our area schools and the largest district, Houston ISD, starts Aug. 23. Health experts have expressed their concern about how contagious the delta variant is as students return to the classroom, which is leaving many parents frustrated at the lack of advice for families, particularly those with children under 12 years old, who are not yet eligible for a COVID vaccine. At least 21 Texas school districts, including some of the state’s biggest, have instituted mask mandates, which are in violation of Abbott’s executive order banning such measures.

Many parents say they face an impossible choice: send kids to school and risk a COVID-19 infection, or keep kids home and jeopardize their mental health and educational development.

Here are answers to common questions parents have about sending kids back to school.

Is it safe for children to go back to classrooms?

Surprisingly, schools have not been a major cause of COVID-spreading events, particularly when a number of prevention measures are in place. A combination of precautions — masking indoors, keeping students at least three feet apart in classrooms, keeping students in separate cohorts or “pods,” encouraging hand washing and regular testing, and quarantining — have been effective. The American Rescue Plan also allocated $122 billion to help school districts pay for health and safety measures, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has allocated $10 billion for screening testing for teachers, staff and students.

What are the risks of COVID-19 and the Delta variant to children?

New research suggests the Delta variant may cause more serious illness in adults, but it’s not known if the variant puts children at greater risk of more serious illness. A sick person can infect as many as eight people in close proximity vs. infecting as many as two people under the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. Compared to adults, children diagnosed with COVID-19 are more likely to have mild symptoms or none at all. Children are also far less likely to develop severe illness, be hospitalized or die from the disease. Children with underlying medical conditions are the most likely to be hospitalized. Black and Hispanic children also had higher rates of hospitalization, although overall risk remained low.

Should concerned parents keep kids at home?

Public health experts say that, in most cases, the risk of educational and mental health setbacks associated with keeping kids home appears to be far higher than the risk of complications from COVID-19 among young people. A number of studies show the pandemic has taken a toll on childhood mental health. And recent findings show that students fell four to seven months behind in math and reading compared to similar students in 2019.

What precautions can we take at home to lower a child’s risk?

The most important step is to vaccinate everyone in the family as soon as they are eligible. This will lower the risk of a child getting infected at home and protect family members if a child brings coronavirus home from school. Parents of school age children should remember that risk is cumulative. Lowering your risk at home by avoiding crowds and enclosed public indoor spaces where you don’t know the vaccination status of others can help reduce the whole family’s risk. Paying attention to the community transmission and vaccination rates and wearing masks in risky settings can also help.

——

Let the People Be Heard

Parents weigh in over their concerns about their children heading back to school.

“I am concerned & also frustrated. Our county does not have a mask mandate only because so many parents are fighting against it. It is frustrating that a year later, people are still willfully ignorant about the usefulness of masks. I send my kids with masks and tell them to wear them in small groups, the carpool line or whenever they were not socially distanced. But they are kids. If the teachers don’t back up the parents who want to take precautions it is not going to help. Sadly, I predict we will all be virtual again by cold & flu season, not because we don’t know any better but because we are intentionally choosing not to do better. And by ‘we’ I mean ‘them’…the anti-vaccers and anti-maskers.” – Stephanie Bullock Ferguson

“I just hope the A/C is working properly because masks get hot and I can see children removing their masks. That’s a recipe for disaster.” -Marvette Watson

“I’ll make sure my kids’ clothes come off in the mud room and immediately go into the laundry when they get home from school.” –William Ewings

 “I get it (politics, optics), but I really don’t understand who would subject people to illness and death so unnecessarily. Our best defense – vaccine, masks AND social distancing. So why not at least mandate masks and social distancing? So many factors at play and possibilities of transmission (teachers, administration, students, support staff, and the ppl in their worlds, etc)…it is nothing to take lightly.” –Clemelia Humphrey Richardson

“I am worried. Thankfully, our school board made it mandatory for kids to wear masks whether vaccinated or not in the classroom.” –Cynthia Morgan Medley

 “I am very concerned especially with these variants and people passing bad information to their kids, which they will pass on to mine.” – Desiree Dalton

 “My son will get his 2nd vaccine dose just prior to school starting. He’ll still wear a mask, eat lunch at his desk and social distance when possible.” – Kimberly Taylor

“I live in Texas ..so I am very concerned about the no mask mandate ..hoping the school board will do the right thing for the children!” Artina Wyche-Coleman

“My father is currently battling cancer. With masks being optional for students and teachers, we made the decision for my son to be a virtual student. As an educator, I have to go to pay the bills. I will be wearing my mask.” – Kendra Streeter Galloway

“I am absolutely concerned! My 10-year-old cannot be vaccinated yet. He also has severe asthma. Fall allergies, colds, etc are already a big trigger. I am stocking up on sanitizer and pumping him full of vitamins. He will definitely be wearing a mask too!” –Adela Mercedes

“As much as I wanted to send my kids to traditional school, my son’s asthma is just too severe to risk it. They will be homeschooled this year.” – Gina Johnson

“My boys have been home since the lockdown began so I had them practice saying “don’t talk to me without a mask,” “move, you’re too close,” etc.” – Mitchell Zekila

“As a grandparent, I am very concerned. I feel in my gut that after Labor Day shut downs will take place again.” – Mel Q. Bates

“My daughter is in elementary school where no child is eligible for the vaccine so I’m quite concerned about transmission incidents. She is used to wearing a mask and gets DAILY reminders to wear it at all times inside.” – Ivy Jo

“We loosened up briefly to allow them to go to summer camp. We were reassured that they were taking every precaution. My kids were exposed and caught COVID week 2. So with school I’m so nervous but staying prayerful.” –Nicole Bird-Faulkner

“I’m scared for my grandkids and because their simpleminded father won’t get vaccinated. He should have been the first in line due to he has Sickle Cell.”-  Gwen Cannon-Jenkins

My child is 2 and home everyday, but my husband is a teacher and his school has had several positives this week. Our children’s hospitals have lots of kids. I’m concerned. My niece was notified today that she’s been exposed since Wednesday as a student… Brittany Boulware Bruton

“I’m very concerned. We have been giving them vitamins to hopefully build up their immunity and making sure they have plenty of masks and hand sanitizer with them all day.” – Shauna Guest

“Mine are staying home another year. My area offers Virtual Academy. They are too young to be vaccinated and I’m not risking it.” – Nyasa Broadus

“My daughter opted for online learning this past year and her friends that did go in person told her of the changes. Now that she’s vaccinated I feel a little better about sending her in person, but only if the school continue… Angela Day Keith

“Not as concerned as last year because mine are vaccinated. They will return to school & they will still wear masks!” – Tashanda Holland-Jackson

“Much too relaxed environment in the schools! Pray for them ALL.” – Misty Metoyer

“Not worried at all, let the world go back to normal.” –Yuli Azzi