“We sent my now six-year-old to kindergarten at the end of August and he came home with a cold within the first week,” Laura Burton-Bloom, 36, a mom of three from Montreal says, unsure whether or not it was COVID-19. “After a day, all seven members of our household were sick. It really put it into perspective the risk we face.”
Our district initially opened with masks required only for common areas indoors for K-5 students, but with new emergency orders in place, all elementary students are now required to wear face masks all day, even outdoors during recess. I’m behind the mask mandate but I wonder if it’s enough—how much protection are they really providing for a group of 30 six-year-olds who share the same classroom air all day long?
Briana Meade, 32, a mom of a third and first grader from North Carolina, works from home as a healthcare communications professional—she knows my struggle. Her kids attend an in-person charter school two days a week, with strict restrictions that include a school app to record temperatures and log health, all-day masks, and no options to use the playground at recess.
“I worry about the compassion (or lack thereof) they might experience in a school environment where the focus is not really on my kid anymore, but on the larger world and issues of COVID,” she says. “Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to just keep them with me and not worry about what they experience out there.”
Our first foray into sickness after staying home since March was a chilling reminder of how easily an entire household can get sick. It brought up a whole host of new questions for our family: If one child is sick, should the other stay home as a precaution? What about my husband, who is a teacher and therefore is risking exposing his own students if someone in our household is sick? Should we be tested every time someone has symptoms?
After my kids got sick, I found myself questioning if I should continue to send them to school. I worried that experience was just the first in what would be a vicious cycle of non-stop illnesses and that while they had mild symptoms this time, another exposure could be worse. My two oldest girls are doing our district’s virtual school option. They’re fully independent in their schooling and old enough to make that choice on their own but, as we found in the spring, the experience was a nightmare for my younger kids. All day on screens plus twice-daily meetings was double the work of in-person school. For the younger kids, it felt like my choices boiled down to homeschooling, which offered more flexibility, or sending them back into the classroom.
As we head into the cold-weather months, I am feeling cautiously on-edge about what the rest of the school year will hold. It was one thing to send them back in August, when they were excited and eager and the sun was shining. But it feels like another to keep sending them, when they are tired and complaining about their ears hurting from wearing masks and spending time outside in the fresh air will soon be a thing of the past. Every day I debate the decision over and over again, weighing what’s best for my kids and for me against the ever-shifting path of the virus. It’s exhausting.
I finally came to an earth-shattering conclusion: I can take the school year day-by-day if I need to. And I’m allowed to change my mind.
I’m a person who likes to plan but if nothing else this year has taught me that plans have to be flexible. I don’t have to worry about what the school might think about me or what the other parents are doing—I just have to focus on doing the best I can for my family with what I have available to me right now. As long as I can learn to adapt, my kids will too.
In the last few weeks, our school district has been having regular, isolated cases of COVID-19. Thus far, they seem to be well-controlled but as I typed this story, another school email came through confirming a case in an elementary school teacher. Deep down, I feel like I’m just waiting for a full-blown outbreak to happen. But for now, I’m living in a type of limbo, trying to navigate my family through the crisis, ever watchful of new updates and temperatures as I take my kids to school every day.
I don’t know if I will ever feel confident that the choices I am making for our family are the right ones. But I do know one thing for certain: I’ll be hanging on to all of our homeschool supplies for a while.
Chaunie Marie Brusie is a writer and a mom of five from Michigan. Find her on Twitter at @ChaunieBrusie.