With the new, more contagious Delta variant driving COVID-19 cases in Colorado and nationwide, parents face some challenging questions as schools begin in 2021: How will the year play out, and what are the best ways to protect children at school during the COVID-19 pandemic?

At Children’s Hospital Colorado, we want to help parents and caregivers make informed decisions based on facts and science. We also acknowledge that every family’s situation is different, and decisions about schooling are personal. To help your family navigate this school year’s ongoing challenges, we consulted our experts on frequently asked questions from real parents.

Here are a few of their top answers:

What are experts recommending to keep kids safe in school?

“Vaccinations and masks are our best tools for getting us safely back to in-person learning and keeping schools open, which is crucial,” says Jessica Cataldi, MD, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Children’s Colorado.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all staff and students eligible for authorized vaccines be fully immunized before attending school, and that all students and staff wear masks indoors while at school — regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated.

While the authorized vaccines remain remarkably effective against severe illness, hospitalization and death, recent evidence shows that a small number of vaccinated people are getting the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 and can spread it. This leaves people who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated particularly vulnerable.

Masks are a simple and effective tool to protect kids and staff, especially children under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccines.

Should my kids go to school in person?

At Children’s Colorado, we’ve advocated strongly for schools to re-open to in-person learning with proper precautions in place. Why?

  • Here’s the short answer: In-person learning plays a huge role in the development of healthy children and adolescents. Learning in-person helps children in many ways beyond education, including many children’s access to technology, mental health services, physical activity and even food. Remote learning leaves children behind if their family lacks access to technology, and in-person school is also important for racial and social equity. In-person learning is key, and data show it can be done safely.

Is it safe to send my kids to school amid the newer coronavirus variants?

The risk of returning to in-person school – even with the Delta variant – is low when proper precautions are in place. Multiple, layered precautions make school even safer.

“We know that COVID-19 still poses a risk to kids, which is why we recommend that children return to school with precautions in-place to protect them,” says Dr. Cataldi. “Of those precautions, vaccinations and masks are our most important tools for success, along with handwashing, testing, distancing, improving ventilation, and quarantine and isolation, when needed.”

Learn more about COVID-19 in children.

When will COVID-19 vaccines be authorized for children under 12?

Based on the pace of ongoing clinical trials and safety studies, we expect the vaccines to be available to children under 12 as early as the fall or winter of 2021.

Since having your child immunized as soon as the vaccines are authorized is the number one way to protect your child from COVID-19, we recommend vaccinating your child as soon as possible. Having them vaccinated also means fewer logistical headaches such as quarantines if they’re exposed to someone with COVID-19. Long-term, more vaccination also means fewer new variants that will be able to evade vaccines. If you have questions about getting your child vaccinated, speak to your child’s pediatrician, who knows them best.

For updates on the coming vaccines for young children, keep an eye on our our COVID vaccine updates FAQ.

If you’re like a lot of other parents right now, you have a lot more questions. Fortunately, you can find a lot more and answers – on vaccines, underlying health conditions, the science supporting masking and more – in the full article, “Q&A: Back to School in Year Two of the COVID Pandemic” at childrenscolorado.org.