COVID-19 and the Classroom: What to Expect and Plan for The 2022-23 Year

composite of kid wearing mask looking at notebook, covid test, soap, and tissues in the image too

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Any parent who has sent their kids to school or daycare over the past two years will tell you that it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. Between fears of COVID-19 infection, concerns about wearing masks, worries about mental health, as well as endless exposure notices and quarantines, many parents are just exhausted.

But of course, as soon as one school year winds down, another one begins. Many of us are already wondering what the 2022-2023 school year has in store for us in terms of COVID-19 protocols.

We reached out to experts, educators, and parents to share their thoughts and predictions about the next school year and what to expect when it comes to COVID-19 mitigations.

UPDATE, August 11

In new guidelines released on August 11, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has adjusted its measures surrounding social distancing and quarantining, with a focus on reducing severe illness. The organization no longer suggests staying six feet apart from other people, adding that contact tracing and regular testing should be limited to high-risk settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, or prisons. The new guidances also do not require quarantining for those who have been exposed to COVID, as long as they are not infected.

However, some guidances do remain the same. The CDC still advises that people who are close contacts to those with COVID maintain a routine testing regimen, and anyone who tests positive should remain home for at least five days, while wearing a mask around others for ten days. The agency also continues to advise people to wear masks indoors in certain geographical areas of the country.

What The 2021-2022 School Year Looked Like

First, it’s important to understand that when it came to COVID-19 protocols for this past school year, both parents and educators had wildly different experiences based on factors such as where they were located, what type of school their children attended, and how old their children were. These types of differences are likely to endure during the 2022-2023 school year.

“Despite clear guidance from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, practices pertaining to mitigation of COVID-19 in schools have varied significantly between school districts across the country, sometimes even within the same county,” explains Diego Hijano, MD, pediatric infectious disease clinical lead at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Although most schools emphasized staying home when a child was ill, says Dr. Hijano, there were very different practices when it came to measures like the adoption of masks.

Diego Hijano, MD

Practices pertaining to mitigation of COVID-19 in schools have varied significantly between school districts across the country, sometimes even within the same county.

— Diego Hijano, MD

Many states had universal mask mandates for schools until late winter of 2022, when the first Omicron surge was over. Others had even stricter protocols: Boston didn’t lift its school mask mandate till June 13th, 2022 even though the state mask mandate ended in February 2022. On the other end of the spectrum, Florida and Texas prohibited schools from having mask mandates at all.

Daycares and preschools generally have had more challenges to contend with when it came to controlling COVID-19, and stricter protocols as result, explains Amina Ahmed, MD, pediatrics physician at Stanford Children’s Health. “The majority of the children served in preschools and daycares are not eligible for Covid-19 vaccination and may not be able to wear a mask throughout the day,” she notes.

Still, even within daycare and preschools, COVID-19 protocols varied significantly. For example, while New York state lifted the mask mandate for all schools in March 2022, New York City schools still required preschools to require masks until June 13, 2022.

What to Know About CDC School COVID Guidelines

The 2021-2022 school year started with the CDC recommending universal masking in all schools. But that changed in late February 2022, when the CDC released an updated COVID-19 risk map based on community levels. Now, the CDC recommended that masking could be optional in schools if a community was at a “low” risk, according to the new CDC metrics.

Still, that didn’t mean that all COVID-19 mitigations were gone. Even at the end of the 2021-2022 school, the CDC COVID-19 school guidelines included protocols such as staying home when sick and testing for COVID-19 before returning; improving ventilation in schools; hand hygiene; and cleaning and disinfecting.

Other strategies the CDC supported included “test to stay” programs, where exposed students didn’t have to stay home unless they developed symptoms; instead, they could test regularly and mask at school for 10 days after exposure. But “test to stay” only applied to the K-12 population, not preschoolers or daycare kids who were ineligible for vaccination.

Experts aren't sure yet how CDC school guidelines will change for the 2022-2023 school year, but expect to see updated guidelines before school resumes in the fall.

How Things Might Change in the Fall

Unfortunately, at this time, what the coming fall may look like remains somewhat uncertain. Just as was the case during the 2021-2022 school year, what happens in the fall may differ depending on a particular region, the age of your child, as well as whether cases are surging or not.

Here’s what we know so far.

Daycare and Preschool

Parents with children in daycare and preschool usually had to deal with more quarantines and isolation than parents of older children this past school year. This was due in large part to the fact that the CDC only recommended “test to stay” programs for K–12-aged children. As such, many daycares and preschools adopted policies where children had to quarantine for 10 days after a known exposure.

Many parents had to deal with multiple quarantines, which had profound impacts on everything from their ability to work to their children’s overall happiness. Dakota Kim, a freelance writer and mom from the Los Angeles area, had her son in preschool during the 2021-2022 school year. She said that having to find childcare—sometimes with very little notice—was incredibly stressful. Not only that, but it took a toll on her son.

“Every time he's had to stay home because someone in school was sick, it caused a great deal of inconsistency to his routine and it was hard reintegrating him to school after he got used to being at home,” Kim shares.

Judy Krause, EdD

It is probable that this may loosen further once the children are eligible for vaccination.

These constant quarantines also made it very difficult for Kim and her husband to work. “We were unable to find childcare, so we took turns staying at home with him and used our PTO days,” she adds.

As for what next year might look like for daycares and preschools, Judy Krause, EdD, executive director of Pacific Oaks Children’s School, a private preschool in Pasadena, California, thinks there’s hope that these lengthy quarantine protocols in daycare and preschools will lessen next school year, especially as children under 5 become eligible for vaccination.

Even at her school, quarantine measures had loosened by the end of the school year, with children only having to quarantine for 5 days after exposure and being allowed to return on day 6, provided they were asymptomatic and had a negative COVID-19 test. “It is probable that this may loosen further once the children are eligible for vaccination,” Dr. Krause commented.

Elementary and Secondary School

By the end of the 2021-2022 school year, most public and private schools became “mask optional." Linda Yancey, MD, infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann Health System Houston, believes that most schools will continue this practice during the 2022-2023 school year, and will only adopt more stringent policies if there is another surge or if another more severe variant comes along.

“At this time, I expect the current protocols will carry forward into the Fall,” Yancey said. “If there is another variant that causes a surge of serious illness, like the Delta variant, there will almost certainly be stricter measures recommended,” she says.

Most educators appear to be on the same page. Jeff Bond, Director of Safety and Security at The Village School in Houston, a large international private school, shared his predictions for Fall 2022: “Based on the current status, we anticipate that masks will continue to be optional when school resumes in the Fall, and schools will be asked to use their best judgment on COVID-19 guidelines based on COVID-19 Community Level.”

Holly Giovi, RN

If the past two years have taught us anything, it's that COVID-19 isn't going anywhere. With new sub-variants emerging right now it is likely that school will be disrupted again in 2022-23.

Holly Giovi, RN, school nurse at Deer Park school district, a public district on Long Island, predicts similar protocols to what are in place now: students are encouraged to stay home when sick and wear masks if desired. But she also knows that this could change, and she sees the possibility of enhanced protocols for a period of time during the 2022-2023 school year.

“If the past two years have taught us anything, it's that COVID-19 isn't going anywhere,” says Giovi. “With new sub-variants emerging right now it is likely that school will be disrupted again in 2022-23.” Giovi says that her district will continue to recommend healthy habits like hand washing and disinfecting.

The district also has found success in using an app where parents can share symptoms of illnesses—COVID-19 and others—so that the district can pinpoint outbreaks and notify parents of measures they can take to curb the spread.

How Can I Keep My Child Safe From COVID-19?

Regardless of what procedures your child’s daycare or school implements this school year to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, there are measures you can take as a parent to decrease your child’s chances of contracting the virus or experiencing a serious case of it.

Anna V. Cornish, DO, medical director of Ambulatory Care Pediatrics at Staten Island University Hospital, says that getting your child vaccinated against COVID-19 is one of the most important steps you can take to lower their risk of severe disease and hospitalization.

You can also encourage your child to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, and monitor your child for symptoms of COVID-19, which may include coughing, body aches, chest pains, sore throat, and congestion. Keep your kids home if they have any symptoms, and notify their doctor and their school, Dr. Cornish recommends.

As for masking, parents can ask their pediatrician when it may be appropriate to resume masking, such as during COVID-19 surges. Parents of children with underlying conditions may consider continuing to mask their children, even when masks are optional. Again, this is a decision you can make with your pediatrician and taking into consideration your own personal risk tolerance, as well as your child’s ability to comfortably wear a mask.

A Word from Verywell

COVID-19 school protocols can be stressful and confusing to parents. It’s important to understand that aspects of the pandemic are constantly in flux, and policymakers, medical professionals, and school staff are having to make decisions based on these ever-changing realities.

If you have further questions about your child’s school's COVID-19 policies for next year, it’s best to contact the administration directly. If you have questions about your child’s health, including questions about masking and vaccinations, please reach out to your pediatrician or healthcare provider for guidance.

11 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.