DALLAS — Some North Texas school districts have already gone back to school, while much of the area will start soon. There's a lot of confusing guidance about what to do about vaccinating your kids if they're of age, and what to do if they're not old enough to get the COVID shot, yet.
Here's what you need to know.
The COVID vaccine is not required for your child, but others are
First: According to the latest Texas Education Agency guidance released Thursday, Aug. 5, public school systems in Texas cannot require students or staff to wear a mask, but must allow individuals to wear masks if they choose to. In addition, Gov. Greg Abbott's latest executive order forbids any mask mandates in schools.
Many are trying to change that. Teachers' groups have petitioned the governor to at least require masks in schools, and a change.org petition asking for the same has garnered more than 5,000 signatures.
Children younger than 12 are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and there is currently no vaccine mandate in place for any students and staff in public schools in Texas. However, the Centers for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended everyone eligible over the age of 12 get a COVID vaccine.
If you are vaccinating your kid against COVID before the school year, the last day to do so in order to hit full vaccination status before the first day of school for most North Texas schools was July 6. If you still want to get the vaccine, see your doctor or head to the following providers, which offer free vaccinations with insurance or through a federal program for the uninsured:
Other pop-up vaccine clinics have started this August as a way to get eligible kids vaccinated before school, too. Check out a list of those here.
Typically, school districts cannot mandate any type of vaccine — but states can. Right now, no state has mandated the COVID vaccine for school entry.
Since Texas has not made the COVID vaccine mandatory for students or staff, it is not mandatory for eligible students or staff to be vaccinated against COVID before the school year starts.
But Texas school districts do, and have required, other vaccinations for some time now.
Statewide, Texas students in kindergarten-12th grade are required to be vaccinated against:
- Hepatitis A and B and
- After a student turns 11, they are required to be vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis.
Texas also allows a "personal belief" exemption for all vaccines. More information on how to do that is available here.
How to keep your kids safe
The latest TEA guidance also states that schools now don't have to inform parents of positive COVID cases, but they do have to report that information to state and local health departments.
Schools also don't have to contact trace, but if they choose to do so, parents can still choose to send their kid to school if they are a "close contact" of a positive COVID case.
The CDC recommends taking the following steps to guard against COVID-19 in schools:
- Full vaccination, if you are eligible
- Universal indoor masking, even if you are fully vaccinated
- Maintain at least 3 feet of distance. If this is not possible, screen testing is important
- Ventilation in classrooms
- Frequent hand-washing
- Frequent disinfecting of surfaces
- Contact tracing
- Staying at home if you feel sick
- Quarantining/isolating if you have had COVID or been in close contact with someone who has had COVID
Other resources for parents
WFAA has a Back to School resource page for everything you need to know for getting ready to head back to school, including:
- Tax-Free Weekend
- WFAA Academy
- Back-to-School events across D-FW
- Dallas ISD COVID testing
- 5 Things to Know about Irving ISD
- How to prepare your kid for going back to school
- How to transition back to in-person learning from virtual learning
- What to do if you don't want to send your kid back to school
- What to do if you want to hold your child back a grade
Check out the YouTube playlist below for videos on those topics as well.