Child Custody

The Challenges of Sharing Custody During a Pandemic

Back-to-school time is usually a combination of excitement and trepidation: new friends, new classes, and even new schools. Preparation for the school year means buying notebooks, pens, and new clothes. Since 2020, we have all been forced to deal with a new paradigm, thanks to COVID-19. Shifting guidance and infection rates have made it difficult for parents to decide how to best protect their children, but this challenge can be particularly acute for divorced parents sharing custody.

In-Person vs. At-Home Learning

Unlike last school year, this year it is anticipated that area schools will be fully open for on-site learning. According to the largest district in the area, San Diego Unified, 98% of registrations are choosing to come to in-person classes. Schools in the area will also continue to offer online options as all public schools are required to offer independent study options for the 2021-22 school year, mandated by the California Department of Education.

One parent may be wanting their child to attend in person, while the other is adamantly against it. Experts suggest that when co-parents discuss whether their child attends school in person they start by being calm and respectful of the other’s opinions. Rehashing old hurts and issues isn’t helpful.

Objectively look at the COVID-19 risk of the child as well as those living in each home. Other factors to be weighed include work and childcare situations. Reflecting on how the child handled at-home learning during the height of the pandemic and their social-emotional needs is important. The child’s learning style is a big consideration, too.

Safety Protocols at Schools

Knowing what schools are doing to protect children can also weigh heavily in parents’ decision on whether to send their children to school or have them learn at home. Measures to prevent the transmission of COVID will be followed by all schools in California. Many of these protocols will mirror last year, but there are some changes.

Masks will be required in most situations. Here is the latest school guidance:

  • Masks are optional outdoors for everyone in K-12 school settings.
  • K-12 students are required to mask indoors, with exemptions per CDPH face mask guidance.
  • Adults are required to mask when sharing indoor spaces with students in K-12 school settings.
  • Persons exempted from wearing a face covering due to a medical condition must wear a face shield with a drape or other non-restrictive alternative if their condition permits it.
  • Schools must provide a face covering to students who forget to bring a face covering.
  • In limited situations where a mask cannot be used, such as communicating or assisting young children or those with special needs, staff members can use a face shield instead of a mask while in the classroom but must return to wearing a mask when outside the classroom.

Physical distancing requirements have changed:

  • For now, it appears that many schools have determined that in-person instruction can occur safely without minimum physical distancing requirements.
  • Other mitigation efforts (mask wearing, hand washing) must be followed. Not doing so could return schools to physical distancing.

Proper ventilation is crucial to reduce the likelihood of infection. The CDC suggests that the following be implemented in schools:

  • Windows and doors will be open when safe to do so.
  • Activities will be conducted outdoors when feasible.
  • HVAC recirculation will be reduced to bring in as much outdoor air as possible.

San Diego Unified has done the following:

  • All existing HVAC systems have been serviced and filters have been replaced. Systems have been adjusted to bring in more outside air.
  • Air purifiers have been allocated to each site, and the number of purifiers in a classroom will vary based on the size, number of windows, type of HVAC system, etc. Air purifiers will be placed in strategic locations for maximum effectiveness.

Vaccination Debate

Parents of children younger than 12 don’t have to make the decision of whether to vaccinate their child against COVID. No vaccine is currently available for younger children. For older adolescents and teens, the vaccine is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children 12 years and older are able to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Disagreeing about vaccinations for children is not new for some parents, divorced or otherwise, but the COVID vaccine debate has become particularly heated and, in some cases, political. For these parents, referring to their existing custody agreement and how previous vaccines were handled provide the framework for deciding whether to have the child vaccinated against COVID.

In other situations, co-parents may not feel they understand enough about the vaccine to make an informed decision. The child’s pediatrician can answer specific questions and explain the pros and cons, how the vaccine works, and potential side effects.

Vaccinations for School Staff

“COVID-19 vaccination is strongly recommended for all eligible people in California, including teachers, staff, students, and adults sharing homes with these members of our K-12 communities,” according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

The California legislature has stopped short of any mandatory vaccinations for school staff. San Diego Unified is requiring teachers to either show proof of vaccination or be tested at least once a week.

When a Child Is Sick

Co-parents must be aware of school protocols should their child become ill, and they must communicate with each other about their child’s health. Should a child show symptoms of COVID-19, they should be tested and the school should be notified of a positive test so contact tracing can begin.

If the test is negative, the child should only return to school after at least 24 hours have passed since the fever resolved without the use of fever-reducing medications and their other symptoms have improved.

Children in contact with a COVID-positive person may not have to stay home from school if they are asymptomatic, continue to wear a mask as required, and undergo twice-weekly testing during the 10-day quarantine (of the infected person). During that quarantine period, the child cannot participate in extracurricular activities.

Parenting Time in a Pandemic

COVID-19’s impacts are fluid, with shifting infection and hospital rates, not to mention the variants currently making their way through our communities. That said, the pandemic is not a reason to deny parenting time. Existing custody agreements should be honored. Unless a court order says otherwise, parents should communicate with each other about what precautions are appropriate and steps they are taking in their homes to protect themselves and the children from COVID-19.

Modifying a Custody Agreement

Parents cannot unilaterally change custody agreements because they disagree on whether a child should go to school or how much time they spend with the other parent. Agreements are legally binding, but a parent can seek to modify the agreement if they feel the current order does not protect the child’s health and safety.

Please note, any of the above regarding schools, the pandemic, guidelines… can change at any time.

The Law Offices of Andrea Schneider, is a proven advocate for families in San Diego, La Mesa, San Carlos, El Cajon, Lemon Grove, and the surrounding communities. I can help you understand your rights as a parent and work to reach the solution that is best for your child.

If you want to modify a child custody agreement, contact me using this online form or by calling (619) 304-8499.

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