DALLAS — Students are heading back to school across North Texas, and it's not just any return to the classroom. For many students, it's the first "normal" beginning to a school year since 2019.
That could mean anxiety and uncertainty for some students, while others might embrace a more typical school year and the chance to be more social with their friends.
Here's what parents need to know to get their kids ready for school this year:
Know your school district's COVID-19 protocols
Yes, we're still in a pandemic, and COVID-19 cases are on the rise across Texas due to a surge of the Delta variant. And while districts aren't allowed to require masks in school, there are still COVID-19 guidelines and requirements to be mindful of.
For example, Frisco ISD requires parents and staff to report a confirmed positive COVID-19 case to campus administration, and anyone with a confirmed case must quarantine for 10 days.
The CDC recommends that all students and staff wear a mask in a school setting, and districts are still taking other precautionary measures, such as social distancing, when possible.
Frisco this week also reintroduced an option for online learning for students up to sixth grade. The district plans to offer the online option until a vaccine becomes available for children under 12.
Denton ISD also announced it will move forward with its Virtual Academy for grades K-8.
Dallas ISD has released a list of 10 things parents need to know to keep their family safe amid COVID-19, including protocols for contact tracing, testing and social distancing. Read the full list here.
Check with your school district about their COVID-19 protocols and if an online option will be offered.
Be mindful of the "COVID slide" learning loss
We hear about the "summer slide" every year, in which some students experience learning loss during the summer months. The Texas Education Agency this week warned parents of the "COVID slide," which could result in 5.7 months of educational loss.
The pandemic "essentially wiped out" Texas students' progress on STAAR scores, a TEA spokesperson said.
A solution that state officials are offering is the opportunity for parents to decide whether their child can repeat a school grade, or, if in high school, repeat a course.
The TEA says parents or guardians are required to notify the school district or charter school in writing that they elect for their child to retake a grade level or course. School districts will render a professional opinion on whether a child is fit to move to the next grade.
However, it is ultimately at the parent's discretion whether a child repeats the year or course.
Be a voice of encouragement
While it's important to be aware of potential learning loss, it can also be difficult for a student's confidence if they think they're falling behind.
"Whether you know it or not, your kids are hearing that," said Jessica Guthrie, senior managing director for teacher leadership development at Teach For America DFW.
Guthrie encouraged parents to "pour their confidence and affirmation into their kids" and be that voice of support.
How to calm your child's anxiety
This could be the case for any new school year, especially this time around: Your child might have anxiety or fears about returning to the classroom.
Kathryn Thalken at TheParentingCenter.org joined Good Morning Texas recently to discuss how parents can help calm these fears.
"We have to show them how to navigate this," Thalken said. "Even though we don't know 100% ourselves. But one of the biggest things we can do is take care of ourselves."
Thalken suggested that parents be sure to get enough sleep and eat well and try to keep an overall positive outlook, all of which can translate to their children.
Thalken also suggested a better way for parents to get a sense of how their child is feeling about school. Instead of asking a leading question, such as "Are you feeling anxious about school?" they can ask a more open question, such as, "How are we feeling about going to school?" This could avoid planting or reinforcing the idea that they're feeling nervous about school.
As for concerns over COVID-19, Thalken suggested that parents encourage their child to do what's comfortable. If they're more comfortable wearing a mask, even if they're friends aren't wearing one, then encourage them to still do what makes them feel safest.
"When they have those moments of, there's other people around and they make me feel not the safest, we have to talk about what we can control, what we can do," Thalken said.
Looking for deals? Texas Tax-free weekend is Aug. 6-8
Back-to-school shopping can get pricey. Fortunately, Texas offers an annual tax-free weekend that includes most things families will need before school starts. This year's tax-free weekend is Aug. 6-8.
The tax-free items include most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks (sold for less than $100).
Here's a full explainer about tax-free weekend and what's eligible.