Pandemic Parenting: Back to School or Not?

Last August we were deciding what school backpack to buy and whether or not to sign up for the school lunch program. This year we’re deciding whether or not to send our children back to school in the midst of a contagious virus. It feels surreal (word of the year right there). This isn’t a choice anybody imagined having to make.

Though everyone is saying, “Whatever your decision, we support you, no judgment,” that’s not entirely true. People are judging. Though it’s not really about other people’s choices, but about justifying and feeling secure about our own. But here’s the thing. PANDEMIC. There is no security, and the uncertainty brings out the worst in some people.

Imagine a single working mom who has no option for childcare and who would absolutely keep her kids home if she could. Then imagine she scrolls through her Facebook feed and sees the following comment:

“If you’re sending your kids back to school, you better update your will.”

What an awful thing to say. It’s dramatic and mean. An insensitive and ignorant comment like this compounds the guilt and distress she is already feeling.

If you were sitting down with this mom over coffee masked face to masked face, would you dare say such a thing?? I don’t think so.

By the way, I’ve seen this comment, or a variation of it, more than once. Stop it. 

Like pretty much every other parent right now, I’m also grappling with the BTS choice.

Truthfully, I feel insecure about choosing to send one child to school while keeping the other home. It’s not Sophie’s Choice, but I’m definitely conflicted.

While we feel safe enough sending our eldest child back to school, we don’t feel the same about our daughter. This would be her first year of high school in a  special-needs program (all day, five days a week). In the Community Pathways Program classes all are small (8-10 students) and are already isolated in a self-contained environment. So in theory it might be safe. But I have concerns about EA availability and supervision. To be honest, I’ve had these concerns well before Covid. So throw a pandemic into the mix and I am a nervous wreck.

It’s also unclear whether students in this program will be required to wear masks. If they are mandatory, I know from experience that my daughter has a very difficult time wearing a mask for longer than 20 minutes. But if they are not mandatory, I’d be sending my child into a classroom where masks are not worn. It feels like a lose-lose situation to me.

So I’m keeping her home.

She’s going to be devastated when she finds out. Avery checks the calendar every morning and counts the days until the first day of school. Her backpack is ready by the door, school supplies packed. I feel sick about that and wonder if we’re making the wrong choice.

See? Look at me trying to justify my choices and second guessing our decision.

None of us are 100% sure. I’m filling out the intent form today before I change my mind again.

Also, I fully acknowledge that I am able to make these decisions from a place of privilege. Not only do I work from home, I am a trained teacher. Also, my son’s high school program is a hybrid, with small in-class sizes.

Many families aren’t in the same situation. 

To the parents of a child with challenging behaviours, sending your child to school might be your only respite.

To the parents of a child who struggles with online learning and who needs in-person, hands-on instruction, your concerns are valid.

To the parents of a child with learning disabilities that are best taught by trained teachers at school, how do you decide?

To the parents of a child whose mental health is at risk, being social and getting back to some sense of normalcy feels critical.

To the parents who will lose their jobs if they stay home with their child, you are in an impossible situation.

To all the parents making this decision right now, whatever you choice you make, it’s the right one because what other choice do you have?

To the parents who are also teachers (my husband included), thank you and keep safe. 

Let’s try to support each other in earnest. We’re all frightened and frustrated. So please don’t post snide comments online, and remember there are parents reading your remarks who are wishing they didn’t have to make this choice.

Pandemic Parenting When You Have A Child With Special Needs

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