I am struggling with the decision my wife and I made to send our twin daughters back to school during a pandemic.
As the primary parent who works a full-time job from home while managing the “classroom” from my dining room table, commanding the television between breaks, and doling out snacks as if they would never run out, I was ecstatic when our district announced they’d start slowly opening up the school to in-person learning. They would start with grades K-2 and then re-evaluate the spread and reassess if they’d move forward with the subsequent grades.
By the time the announcement came in early November, I had gained a few extra gray hairs right in the front of my head, forgot to eat lunch most days, and by 2 pm every day, I was ready to call it quits. Plus, there were just things I could not offer my kids that only their kindergarten teacher would. In-person school would enhance their social and emotional skills; they’d learn independence and a healthy separation from their family; they’d get to play with and make new friends; they’d get to engage with their physical education and art teachers; they’d go to the library and make food choices on their own in the school cafeteria. But most of all, they would get to learn from people eager to teach them, who signed up to do so, and who I trust: their teachers.
My struggle is that in our family’s decision to send our kids back into the classroom, we are knowingly putting our kids and their teachers and school staff at risk of contracting COVID-19. The fact is, as stated by healthychildren.org, “The goal of having children attend school in person–which is how they learn best–will only be safe when a community has the spread of the virus under control. And then, when it is possible to reopen a school for in-person learning, a layered approach is needed to keep students, teachers, and staff safe.” Our district is doing well, keeping a check on what is happening in our community, but I still worry.
We make decisions day in and day out for our kids, and some we do with a whole heart, knowing it’s the best choice for them at that moment. And then there are times like these, when every option presented is challenging. While it is true that teaching my kids while working from home is difficult, so is not having a job to put food on the table for them like the struggle millions of Americans are facing, which is doubly difficult during the holidays. There is the reality that if the economy does take a nosedive and my wife or I lose our jobs, or one of us gets COVID-19 and we blow through our savings, that our family will be struggling.
We know how lucky we are to have our health and our jobs, and that our kids are healthy and able to go to school. We are managing it, juggling it all, and losing our minds, but every single option sucks. My five-year-olds can’t sit in front of the computer and engage with their teachers the way they can when they are in the classroom. Last Monday, at drop-off, they ran to the door, screaming “I LOVE SCHOOL!” and hearing them in unison broke my heart. The week prior, again on a Monday, they begged me to take them early so they could be the first ones in their classrooms. We sat in the car line, a full 15 minutes before the school bang rang just so they could be first.
For my kids, school is what they need — so if we are taking the proper precautions, following the guidelines from their school and Dr. Fauci, why does this feel so challenging to fully get behind?
It’s difficult because we don’t know what will come of this year, this season, this pandemic. We do know people are dying. We do know that schools are closing. We do know that life will never be the way we knew it before March. What we will have are children who still need an education. We will have parents who still need to work and provide for their families.
I take extra precautions every time they get home from school: they immediately wash their hands, they change their clothes, they shower, their masks are washed and their jackets too. I pump them with water, so much so that they drink nothing else. They take their daily vitamins, and eat their fruits and veggies. And each day, before they go to school, we talk about how to stay safe: use your hand sanitizer that is in your backpack, wear your mask, don’t share food, stay back from people and follow the directions your teachers give you.
I remind myself that if their teachers didn’t love their jobs and didn’t want to show up in fear of their health, they would (hopefully) work out an alternative, advocate and call for change. But they show up every day, because they love our kids too — and, like us, they are making the difficult decision to open the doors to the classroom because our future as a nation depends on the education our kids are getting today. Even while it all feels so impossibly hard.
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