The Weight of The Decision To Send Kids Back To School Feels Crippling

Why The Back-To-School Decision Is A Touchy Subject For Parents

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Scary Mommy and Justin Paget/Getty

I finally got the email. THE email. The email I’ve been anxiously awaiting for months. Its message contains the news that determines our fate for the next year: whether our school will be opening in the fall.

Our district said that yes, despite COVID cases being on the rise in our state, they will be fully open in the fall and that regular classes will resume. There is also a second option (B) for complete remote learning. Each family gets to choose option A or B.

My initial reaction to this news was elation. Halle-freakin-lujah! I’ve been quarantined with three young children for the past five months and we’re all at our breaking point. The kids desperately miss their friends and I’m eager to send these rabid, wild hyenas to school for seven blessed hours. No doubt in my mind that we will choose option A.

But then I start to worry and wonder if sending the kids back is the right thing to do.

The more I mull it over and research it, I realize option A might be entirely the wrong decision and could even carry deadly consequences. My anguish is compounded when I realize option B might be the entirely wrong decision as well, but for completely different reasons.

This begins to feel like a catch-22, fraught with emotional landmines and moral conundrums. How will I make such a critical decision when people’s lives, livelihoods and sanity are on the line?

I want some perspective and I am curious of what my fellow parents’ opinions are on the matter, so I join some group chats and online forums on the matter. Although, there are a few others who are conflicted as well, surprisingly, the majority feels confident and unapologetic of their decision with either option A or B.

One thing is clear though; this is a sensitive matter for both sides. Normally mild-mannered, reasonable people are shaming and hurling insults at those with opposing views.

Those who choose option A cite a plethora of reasons. Chief among them being, they really have no choice in the matter. Childcare is simply not an option as both they and their spouse rely on full-time employment to put food on the table. If they are forced to homeschool/distance learn, they will lose their income and their family will reap the negative consequences.

Girl with homemade protective mask on her way to school
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Then there is the matter of the effectiveness of learning at home, which seems to be at the crux of the issue. For our family, distance learning was an unmitigated disaster. I don’t think the kids got “dumber” per se, but I certainly don’t think they learned anything. They just don’t view or respect me as a teacher, and thus didn’t feel compelled to listen to me ramble about fractions and phonics.

I can unequivocally say that I am not cut out to be a homeschool mom and the kids’ education will suffer for it.

The issue of mental health is also brought up. Many kids (and parents) are suffering from anxiety and depression stemming from being quarantined and away from other children. Kids, especially young ones, are social creatures and play is how they learn. At this pivotal time in their development, are we stunting their growth by removing their opportunity to play and interact with other kids? Additionally, if kids stay home, child abuse and neglect will continue to skyrocket and will go largely unreported.

Heavy stuff.

Those in the option B camp bring up some poignant arguments as well. First and foremost, there is the very real possibility that the virus could spread, and that people could die. I don’t think you can get any more compelling than that. Mic drop.

We’ve heard the heartbreaking cries of teachers who desperately love the kids they teach but are frightened for their lives to return to the classroom. This one is personal for me because I come from a family of teachers, many of whom are considered high-risk due to their age. Children do seem to be little petri dishes for germs, so it sickens me to think about knowingly putting school faculty and staff in harm’s way by being exposed to them.

The success of in-person school is also being called into question. We can all agree that we want to get back to “normal.” But, how “normal” will in-person school even be? My son is starting Kindergarten, which is a landmark year in a child’s life, and the thought of him (and I) being robbed of a “normal” experience makes me sad. I realize this pales in comparison to the devastating suffering going on all around us, but it’s hard nonetheless.

Just when I think things cannot get more complex, I realize there are debates inside of debates. Even among those that agree with sending the kids back, the issues of preventive health and safety measures come up. Should young children be expected to wear masks? Some feel that it would be distracting and impede their learning. Can teachers effectively teach behind huge masks? Social boundaries, such as the safety of recess, are also hotly disputed. Can we reasonably expect kids (especially the little ones) to understand and practice proper social distancing and good hygiene?

I’ve come to realize there is not a right or wrong answer. Each familial situation is unique and poses a specific set of circumstances which impacts people’s opinions. Long-term threats to health, education and financial instability are all valid arguments. With so much at stake, the weight of this monumental decision feels crushing.

It seems the more I learn, the more conflicted I am. So here I am, more befuddled than ever. I’m rendered unable to make a decision for fear of making the wrong one. But decide I must, because we have one week to inform the district of our intent; so, time is ticking.

I truly feel like parents are in a lose/lose situation here and I hate it that we are tasked with making this divisive, impossible and heart rendering decision. I guess we have to file this under the category of being yet another casualty of COVID-19 and its massive destruction and collateral damage.