Experts say parents are the first line of defense in stopping face masks or vaccination status from becoming a conflict at school.
The choices are up to each student and their family. Some students may choose to wear masks, or get the COVID-19 vaccine if eligible, others may not.
So, how do you prevent those differences from turning into a conflict in the classroom?
At one metro district, counselors said the issues may be new, but the remedy is tried and true.
“Part of being a kid and part of being in school is that sometimes there may be conflicts, or maybe a difference in beliefs,” said Heather Wiggins, Director of Student Services at Mustang Public Schools.
Wiggins oversees guidance counseling for the district. She said counselors are trained to navigate those differences, and this year they expect to see a few.
“We're going to have the full spectrum,” she said. “We're going to have kids wearing masks and we're going to have other kids that choose not to. We value and respect that just like we value and respect everything else.”
When it comes to encouraging students to do the same, Wiggins believes it starts before they enter the building.
“Parents can encourage their kids to be kind to one another, and that goes a long way in building those relationships.”
State Superintendent Dr. Joy Hofmeister agrees on the importance of having those conversations early.
“When families talk about issues they begin to build empathy and they also build that emotional IQ,” said Hofmeister. “That actually repels bullies from them as they are a little more secure.”
Hofmeister also points out the difference in peer conflict and bullying. Bullying often comes from a place of power or authority. Encouraging students to address issues with teachers, she says, can also prevent one from turning into the other.
“We can suppress that and hopefully avoid that growing into something that has profound impact and injury.”
She added the best way to make this a non-issue, is for more Oklahomans to get vaccinated to prevent a surge.
When it comes to suppressing anxiety over a new year or a novel virus, Wiggins said there is one more thing parents should consider.
“Kids typically respond to their parents,” she said. “If parents have a good attitude about school and when they're focusing on the school year starting and all of the exciting things about school - that's what the kids will pick up on.”
Mustang joins 12 other school districts in returning to class on Thursday.
The district also posted resources to help prevent bullying. You can find those at: https://www.mustangps.org/BullyingPrevention.aspx