What You Need to Know About School Etiquette in 2021-2022

Spot illustrations of school aged children

Verywell / Bailey Mariner

If your kids are headed back to in-person learning this year, you may be feeling completely relieved. Of course, you might also feel a little sad after getting used to having them around during the day for so long.

Either way, heading back to the classroom is likely going to be beneficial for their learning and for their mental health. Both the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend a return to in-person learning, saying that it is much more effective than distance learning.

Attending a brick-and-mortar classroom will be the new reality for many kids this fall, but that doesn't mean things will be back completely back to normal. COVID-19 is still very much part of our lives, so precautions will need to be taken at school.

Parents should stay up-to-date about the latest COVID-19 recommendations and discuss them with their kids. It's also important to be aware of your school's requirements and guidelines. "Parents should sit down and have a conversation with their kids about how the classroom and school will be different," says Kate Monahan, a developmental psychologist and certified family life educator. "Helping your child understand what may be different in school this year will reduce their worries and prepare them for learning."

Benefits of In-Person Learning

Though the situation is improving, the COVID-19 pandemic is still present. ICUs are full of COVID-19 patients and vulnerable populations are still very much at risk. Even so, experts highly recommend a return to in-person learning with layers of protection in place.

Experts now believe that the benefits of a real-life classroom outweigh the risks, particularly when layers of protection are used. Remote learners suffered a significant learning loss over the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. Black and Hispanic students had a more extreme loss than their peers, as did disabled students.

One study showed that students learning online at home were also more stressed and depressed last school year. This could have had to do with the fact that they were living through a scary time, but the researchers believe too much time sitting and not enough peer interaction could also have played a role.

"The key to effective learning is relationships—the relationship between teacher and student is key to learning but also the relationship between student and student," emphasizes Esther Wojcicki, an award-winning educator, author, and co-founder of a peer-to-peer, project-based learning platform designed for kids ages 8 and up.  

Relationship-based learning is even more important in younger grades. "Kids in grades K-4 need in-person learning because their skills are not yet well developed," Wojcicki notes. "Also, they need to learn social-emotional skills and there is no way to learn those skills purely online."

What the CDC Says

The CDC recommends layering precautions so that when one is not possible, another will provide protection. For example, children will definitely come within three feet of one another at some point, so a mask will act as a backup. Likewise, when a mask comes down at lunchtime, staying three feet apart will help protect students.

Official Recommendations for Safe In-Person Learning


The CDC strongly recommends that anyone who is eligible to do so should get vaccinated. At this point, the vaccine is available for ages 12 and up, and clinical trials are underway for kids under 12. Getting vaccinated makes it much less likely that you will get infected. And if you do, a vaccine reduces your risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

Getting vaccinated also protects those around you from becoming infected. This is especially relevant in schools where many students are under age 12.

Drop Off and Pick Up

Drop off and pick up will need to function differently since they naturally lead to crowding. It may pull on your heartstrings to not see your little one in action in their classroom, but limiting this interaction is an important part of reducing the risk of COVID-19.

Many schools are implementing new drop-off and pick-up protocols, including:

  • Having kids line up on assigned, spread-out spaces and wait for attendance to be taken
  • Introducing scattered drop-off and pick-up times to reduce crowding of parents
  • Using sidewalk drop off and pick up
  • Making use of a touchless sign in and out, or clean pen and dirty pen cups

In the Classroom

In-person learning will require adherence to COVID-19 precautions in order to reduce risk. Kids should wear masks in their classrooms and maintain a distance of three feet between themselves. Teachers can help facilitate this by using assigned seats and spots in the room.

Not getting enough physical exercise is an added concern this year. Using stations, where kids cycle from one activity to the next, can help kids keep moving. Parents can help their kids get enough physical exercise, too. "Incorporating morning exercise, like biking or walking to school, can help kids focus more in class," Monahan notes.

On the Playground

Recess is necessary from a developmental standpoint, but it's a difficult time to enforce social distancing. For this reason, many schools will require masks while outside as an added layer of protection. Wearing masks outside can also be helpful for consistency and to avoid the problem of misplaced masks.

Parents and teachers should explain to kids why we need to social distance and encourage them to do so. It's important to teach children to use good manners with each other while also staying safe. Social distancing should not become a form of bullying.

In the past, recess may have been the time to munch on a snack. This year, it is best if snacks are only eaten at tables where kids can be spaced three feet apart.

In the Lunch Room

Lunchtime is a tricky part of the day because it's one of the only times that everyone needs to take off their masks. This means that the other layers of protection in place become more important. Children may be required to keep more distance, eat lunch in the classroom, or follow the other safety rules listed below.

Lunchtime Safety Rules

  • Wash hands immediately before coming into the lunchroom.
  • Any lining up needs to be done with three feet between students.
  • Masks on unless seated and eating.
  • Children should eat at assigned seats, three feet apart, and if possible, with transparent barriers between them.
  • Eat only when seated.
  • No sharing food.

Specials and Extracurriculars

Physical education, art and music, and afterschool sports are some of the most fun parts of school. Sadly, these specials and extracurriculars require more mixing of children, so many schools will not include them this year. Others may do so with extra precautions. It is best to check your school's policy, and explain to your child why their favorite after-school activity may not be the same.

Older children may be more likely to be able to participate in extracurriculars and special classes if they are vaccinated.

Tips on Kids and Masks

Many younger children reject mask-wearing, which can be a challenge for parents. None of us are excited to strap our masks on each morning, but we understand why we need to. Similarly, explaining the reason for masks can help kids agree to put them on. Just make sure you use neutral language, rather than fear-based language. Children should not be afraid of mask-wearing.

Giving lots of choices and making masks fun may help. "Let your child pick out some new masks," says Monahan. "This will increase compliance." You can also let them choose their mask with their outfit each morning to make it more inviting.

Even if your child agrees to wear their mask, there are practical issues to consider when it comes to kids and masks. Monahan suggests developing a plan and considering where your child will keep their mask when they take it off, and where they will store dirty and extra clean masks. It's a good idea to keep two sandwich bags in their backpack, one labeled clean and one labeled dirty, for carrying masks.

And yes, you do want to pack extras. Kids are kids and they might drop their maks, suck on it, sneeze into it, or who knows what else. Packing extra means they'll always have one on hand.

A Word From Verywell

It can feel scary to send your child back to school as the pandemic continues. Even if you know that in-person learning is more beneficial than virtual, it's natural to have some reservations. You may find some comfort knowing what your school's safety rules are, and helping your child put them into action.

10 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.
  1. CDC. Guidance for covid-19 prevention in k-12 schools and ece programs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. Korioth T. AAP urges in-person learning, masking in updated guidance on safe schoolsAAP News.

  3. Number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care (Icu). Our World in Data.

  4. Closing the Learning Gap: How frontline educators want to address lost learning due to COVID-19. Horace Mann.

  5. Lischer S, Safi N, Dickson C. Remote learning and students’ mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic: A mixed-method enquiryProspects. doi: 10.1007/s11125-020-09530-w

  6. Ventilation in Schools and Childcare Programs. Center for Disease Control and Protection.

  7. School Settings - COVID 19. Center on Disease Control and Prevention.

  8. Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

  9. Benefits of getting a covid-19 vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  10. Health C on S. The crucial role of recess in schoolPediatrics. 2013;131(1):183-188.

By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.