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Can students be required to go back to in-person learning?

Whether school will be held in-person, remotely, or a mix of both, is a district-by-district, school-by-school, and case-by-case decision. Many schools are opting to provide only in-person learning for their students, while others can and are providing remote options as well. Parents who are not comfortable sending their children to school in a district where in-person is the only option may need to find an alternative, such as homeschooling, a private school, or an online learning platform. 

As education is generally a matter of state or local law, many districts may not have a legal requirement, nor the resources, to provide remote instruction for students. All the law requires from districts is equal access to quality instruction for students, and this may be in-person only in some areas. As the 2021 school year gets under way, districts and schools are making difficult decisions and may have to quickly change course depending on how things progress.

Parents who are concerned about COVID-19 or who have medically fragile children need to reach out to their district or school to see what options exist. Many districts are offering alternatives in these unique situations, even when they require in-person learning for their students.

Can students, teachers, and staff be required to wear masks?

The CDC now recommends universal masking while indoors for teachers, staff, students, and visitors in all schools, regardless of vaccination status. Many districts are following this recommendation, making masking a requirement. This has led parents and staff members to ask if these mandates and requirements are enough, or how noncompliance will be handled.

CDC recommendations are not legal requirements. Many states and local jurisdictions are making their own requirements about masks in schools and other COVID-19 safety requirements. Parents who do not want their children in unmasked indoor environments are asking about what they can do to keep their kids safe in places where masks are not mandated, or where state or local laws contradict CDC guidance.

These are uncharted waters as this is the first time in almost a century that the country has endured a pandemic. As a result, parents may benefit from talking to an attorney about their options when it comes to protecting their children while they are at school.

Can students, teachers, and staff return to in-person learning without being vaccinated?

Required vaccinations for school are nothing new. Students have had to show their vaccine record to attend public education for many years, and the COVID-19 vaccine may soon be added to that list. Not all students, however, are eligible for the vaccine and many adult staff remain unvaccinated. Districts are weighing these factors as they make choices about reopening schools. Currently, many students, teachers, and staff may return to in-person learning without vaccination, but many districts are considering a vaccine requirement for those who are eligible.

If you or your child are unable to get the vaccine for religious or health reasons, make a Vaccine Exemption Form to provide to the school. A Vaccine Exemption Form may provide legal protection should your school district make the vaccine a mandatory requirement.

What criteria have to be met before a school can resume in-person learning?

Most districts already started or are looking to shift back to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year. What each district or school will consider varies, but most are weighing the total number of cases in the community, hospitalizations, vaccination rates, and similar data when making a decision. Some districts are still embracing a hybrid learning schedule that has some remote days and some in-person days each week to help with social distancing. 

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and remains legally unprecedented. Families looking ahead to the school year are wondering what their legal options are and Rocket Lawyer can help. Use the Rocket Lawyer Mobile App or visit the COVID-19 Legal Center to learn more about your rights and legal options for returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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