C.D.C. guidelines make clear that good ventilation is essential for lowering the risk of airborne transmission. The federal government allocated more than $120 billion for K-12 schools in the latest relief package for improving ventilation and other mitigations, but rules for using these funds are flexible, and local implementation remains haphazard.

Parents need concrete information. Can windows in classrooms be opened, and will they be? Are HEPA filters, which cost a few hundred dollars each, being used in classrooms? Has the air-conditioning, if used, been adjusted to bring in outside air, and have its filters been upgraded to better catch pathogens? Have classroom ventilation rates been evaluated, for example by using carbon dioxide monitors?

Teachers and other staff members who work with kids younger than 12 should be subject to vaccine mandates, just like those who work with the elderly. We should also increase the use of rapid tests in schools, to try to catch outbreaks early.

Masking policies in schools remain confusing and muddled as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that all children, even if vaccinated, wear masks in schools, which contradicts C.D.C. guidelines saying only the unvaccinated should wear them. Meanwhile, places like Texas and Iowa have barred schools from requiring masks.

How are parents supposed to negotiate a situation like this, especially if their children are under 12?

The problem with selective masking indoors, as the C.D.C. recommends now, is that it’s impossible to enforce. This could get especially tricky in schools, where peer pressure can play a large role.

A sensible school policy would be to mandate masks for all elementary school children, at least until a vaccine becomes available to them, and tie it to local infection and vaccination rates for those 12 and over. Parents who can vaccinate their kids are less at the mercy of everyone else’s choices, making mandates less crucial.