My Schools’ Reopening Plans Make Me Cautiously Optimistic

I Am (Cautiously) Optimistic About Sending My Kids To School This Fall

August 12, 2020 Updated August 14, 2020

SDI Productions
SDI Productions/Getty Images

As a work-from-home mom with two kids under five, this past year has been a total shitshow thanks to COVID-19. There have been moments that have tested my patience, my faith in humanity, and my mental health more times than I can count. And I am certainly not the only human being struggling in my house. 

For the past nearly five months, we’ve all battled against endless piles of laundry, emotional meltdowns, both my husband’s and my work responsibilities, and homebound activities that never seem to completely satisfy my energetic kids. This global pandemic has left all of us totally undone, and we still haven’t managed to piece ourselves back together again. 

Of course, none of this has ever made me waiver on the belief that my children staying at home, up until now, is the right decision. It may drive us all bonkers, but at the very least, we know that we’re the safest when we’re here together. We’re also taking the recommended precautions and wearing face masks, social distancing, and listening to the scientists. It’s far from easy, but we’re showing up for it all the best we can. 

I know that a ton of parents out there have been grappling with the grave reality of navigating another potential school year at home with kids, while others have been waiting in agony as their local school districts decide whether to enforce in-school learning or not this fall. While my two young children are not old enough to go to public school yet, I’ve still had to deal with my fair share of tough calls and worrisome moments as we trial-and-error our way through coronavirus times. And the start of the next school year is no exception. 

My four-year-old daughter June was pulled out of her beloved preschool back in early March when COVID-19 cases began to spike here in New Hampshire, and my 20-month old son Everett stopped attending his local daycare at the same time. Despite having decades of experience working with kids, I knew going into motherhood that I’d never be the kind of parent who would homeschool my own children. I’ve learned firsthand just how difficult and all-consuming the gig is (thank you educators!), and I wanted to leave it to the professionals. So being unexpectedly forced into the role with no preparation and boatloads of anxiety made my first at-home “teaching” journey a recipe for disaster. While I’ve certainly cared for my kids in superhuman ways since the virus hit our town, I’d be lying if I said it compares to the quality early education they were receiving at their respective schools. 

Since we’re not at the point of being afforded the universal childcare we deserve in this country, my husband and I chose to place our kids in independently-owned preschools run by a bunch of dedicated women and moms. These two spots eventually became invaluable when they remained open as emergency childcare facilities for the families with essential workers in our town. Even though we didn’t qualify for temporary spots at the schools and wouldn’t have taken them even if they were offered to us, I felt so damn proud knowing that the amazing adults I entrusted my children were still showing up for frontline and essential workers who needed their support.

I’ve received ongoing email updates from school administrators and have felt relieved knowing that both centers were following every CDC protocol and taking proactive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for students and staff. I’m happy to report that they have both successfully remained open these past five months with no outbreaks. We also received back-to-school newsletters complete with an impressively thorough list of even more updated safety measures. So when both places contacted me to announce that spots were going to open up for families with non-essential workers, I didn’t hesitate to call them right back and sign up my kids. 

This obviously wasn’t an easy decision to make by any means. But it was a necessary one for our family as we’ve carefully considered our individual needs, how proactive our local facilities have been, and how positive the experience was for the families who have attended these schools during the pandemic. It’s also a choice that I am humbled by and grateful for, because it would be a much different story if our town was a current coronavirus hot spot. I can’t quite breathe deeply just yet, however, because anything can change. But for now, I am doing my best to trust our situation and move forward continuing to be vigilant, observant, and aware.

Another curveball that I’ve tried to roll with has been the recent addition of my 14-year-old stepdaughter. We haven’t been able to see her for a while due to the pandemic and being on separate coasts at the moment. It’s her first year of high school, and we had hoped that a temporary move from California would create the potential for a hybrid learning experience this fall, since she was as overwhelmed with remote education as many other students have been. We just learned, however, that our local public school district opted out of the in-person option after initially planning for it, and they’ll instead continue remote learning for the first month or two of school. But if COVID cases remain stagnant or decrease here and enough CDC protocols will be in place to ease our minds, she’ll be joining others in the classroom when a hybrid option becomes available. 

I wish I wasn’t spending the last of our summer days doing a risk-benefit analysis of my kids’ academic futures, and my heart goes out to every single parent who has had to deal with this dumpster fire too. In so many ways, families are damned if we do and damned if we don’t, since we have no clue what the long-term outcome will be of sending our kids to school versus keeping them at home. Please remember to take into account your own household’s individual experience as you move forward. Know that none of us are alone in this. While my situation may look vastly different than yours, I have assuredly dealt with the same fear and uneasiness as I parent through this asshole of a virus. And like many of you, I’m so damn ready for it to be over now.