At this point, no one knows for sure what will happen with school next year. There’s a lot of talking and planning, but I think most of us realize that safely returning the nation’s approximately 56 million schoolchildren to school, along with their teachers, is going to be an absolute (and very risky) shitshow.
First, there is the issue of whether returning to school is safe. The new AAP guidelines assure parents that children usually get mild cases of COVID-19, and because of this, they usually don’t transmit the virus as easily to others. As the AAP explains, “Although many questions remain, the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2.”
But note the language they are using here — “less likely” does not mean not that certain kids won’t get very sick with the virus, nor does it mean they won’t transmit it to others. I think we can all agree that we have no idea how many outbreaks might happen when said 56 million school children congregate in school buildings this fall, no matter what safety precautions are in place.
If other countries around the world are indicators, outbreaks will happen. For example, soon after Israel reopened schools, many of their schools went right back into lockdown after 635 students and staff were infected with COVID-19. And Israel is a much smaller country than America.
Even in America, there have been outbreaks in daycare centers as states have reopened. Just this past week, there were outbreaks linked to daycare centers in Oregon, North Carolina, and Texas. The outbreak in Texas involved 950 cases — 643 staff members and 307 children. Yikes.
Experts understand that opening school comes with risk, which is why agencies like the CDC have come up with guidelines for safe reopening, which include density reduction, social distancing in classrooms, mask wearing, sanitizing, etc. Many schools already know they will not be able to reduce density in their schools without resorting to hybrid models and staggered schedules.
If you are a parent, you’ve heard all the possible plans, all of which are probably making your head spin. You may be wondering how in the hell things like expecting kids to stand six feet apart all day every day from their peers, or wearing a mask for six hours straight, will even be possible, especially for little kids. You may be wondering how an every-other-day schedule, or a two-day a week schedule, will allow you to return to work, to return to any kind of normalcy.
Not only that, but how will districts be able to afford all that hand sanitizing, professional cleaning, extra space, extra staff, and PPE? So many schools are overcrowded and understaffed as it is.
As I’ve thought about all this for the past few weeks, and as I’ve considered the risks I am willing to take with my own children—both of whom are asthmatics, and one of whom was rushed to the ER last year with a serious asthma attack—returning to school does not sound like the best option for my family.
Not only that, but keeping my kids home is something that I can do.
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t want to keep them home, and distance learning or homeschooling is not my preference in general. My husband and I both work full-time and the three months that we did distance learning with our kids this spring were awful. There was crying almost every day and very little learning happened.
But keeping them home next year (hopefully with an improved plan for balancing working/schooling at home) is something I have the privilege of doing, as someone who works from home, has money to potentially do things like hire online tutors to supplement their learning, and who has neurotypical children who may be cranky AF at times, but who can adapt to difficult situations when the need arises.
I recently wrote to my kids’ school district asking them to please give parents like me the option of distance learning (and I asked that they improve it too). And as I’ve been thinking about all of this, I’m realizing that not only do I hope school districts all over offer this option, but that parents in situations like mine take them up on it.
Listen, I know that distance learning is not ideal. I know that being in school is much better for kids’ mental health. I know kids need socialization. But the thing is that we are in the middle of a really fucking catastrophic pandemic. 126,000 people (and counting) have been lost to this thing, and if we reopen up schools at maximum capacity, we risk not only infecting our children and teachers, but also others in our communities.
For a middle class person like me, making the decision to keep my kids home means that other kids, who are much more vulnerable to the perils of not being in school—special needs kids, kids who experience adverse circumstances at home, kids who face food insecurity, kids without access to technology, kids whose parents are essential workers, etc.—will be able to return to school more safely. This also helps ensure community and public health.
And don’t forget the teachers, please. Sending older and at-risk teachers back to school is a dangerous proposition. Let’s protect vulnerable teachers by giving them the option of working from home and using remote modalities to teach our kids. Fewer kids in school also means that fewer bus drivers and fewer support staff will be vulnerable to potential outbreaks.
In a nutshell, I am advocating that any parent who can keep their kids home this fall, should strongly consider doing so, and that school districts must give parents that option.
Yes, what I am advocating for will piss many parents off. You will tell me that you pay taxes and you’re entitled to drop your kids off as long as the doors are open. You will tell me that you can’t work at home with kids breathing down your neck. You will tell me that your kids will not learn, and that their mental health will suffer.
Again, no one is saying that those things don’t suck. They do. But it seems nearly impossible to safely send all of our children back to school, and I’m saying that those of us with privilege should consider making the sacrifice of keeping our kids home during this pandemic. This way, we can reduce density in schools, and offer the kids who need school the most a better chance of returning safely. This also gives schools an increased chance of being able to adhere to CDC guidelines.
I know every circumstance is different. I know I don’t know exactly how your child has suffered as a result of not being in school. But I also know that lots of parents who I see bitching and complaining about their kids’ distant learning experiences are exactly the same ones who have access to stuff like unlimited WiFi, online tutors, therapists, heat, hot water, and unlimited snacks.
Again, this is a fucking pandemic. We are all suffering. Having our kids miss some or all of next school year will be awful, and it’s not something I am looking forward to. But I also know that humans have an amazing ability to adapt, and that teaching our children how to do that—and how to make sacrifices for the greater good—might be one of the most important lessons they will learn during this god awful time.