Back to School during a Pandemic
Traditional, virtual, remote, blended, traditional, virtual, remote, blended, traditional, virtual, remote, blended, they are like buzz words flooding our timelines, inboxes, thoughts and conversations. As school systems are trying their best to prepare for school to start back, so much is being considered and it seems that school systems, teachers and parents are in a tailspin. Maybe a little perspective will help parents in their decisions.
If we are strictly talking about safety, then in your heart and mind you know that the virtual (also known as remote) schooling option is the safest. Safest means to be protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed. So in terms of what is safest, it should not be a surprise to anyone that when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic that the safest option for children is being home and being home means choosing the virtual platform for education.
A quick review of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). You are probably familiar by now, but here is a reminder just in case. The coronavirus is a contagious and highly infectious virus that first came to light at the end of 2019. The virus is spread in respiratory droplets and by contact. Symptoms usually manifest within 2-14 days of contracting the virus and cases can range from mild to severe. Some people are asymptomatic carriers of the virus meaning they have the virus but have no symptoms. Most persons who do contract the virus have mild symptoms. Symptoms include cough, loss of taste and smell, fever, shortness of breath, headache, and more. Refer to the cdc.gov for additional information. Because it is a new virus, we do not have a vaccine or a cure available at this time. Scientists are steadily working on this. In the meantime, the best treatment is doing what you can to prevent contracting the infection. Properly wearing a mask, frequent hand washing/sanitizing, social distancing (6 feet apart) and avoiding large crowds are your main lines of defense.
The proper way to wear a mask (thumbs up).
The WRONG way to wear a mask (thumbs down).
Though safety is the priority consideration, it is not the only consideration. If this were the case, there would not be so much back and forth over what to do and what not to do. There would not be so much conversation about how to best transition back to school and what choices the parents are making for their children. This is because though safety is the main priority, it is not the only priority.
Each family has to determine what is best for them. The virtual format may not be feasible for everyone. The format comes with challenges despite the fact that it is the safest option. Though it is the safest, many parents must work outside of the home to support their families. Though it is the safest, not all parents who work from home can truly "work" and become the virtual school facilitator/teacher for their children. Though it is the safest, not all parents have the proper tools, training, wherewithal and if I may be completely honest, the patience and desire to meet the particular needs of their children virtually. The impact can be even greater in families who have more than one child. There are also many parents who may not have outside support to help with what could be considered homeschooling. Some parents are not able to afford tutors or nannies who could help them either. Some don't have family members or friends who are able to fill in the gap for them.
So the question really becomes what is the safest, most realistic and practical solution for your family. Depending on your life's circumstances the "safest" approach may not be the best approach for you. In this case, you do your best to make your option, the safest for you. It is also important to remind ourselves that for the most part, our teachers and school systems have the best interest of the students in mind. Therefore, the administrators, teachers and staff are tirelessly working to come up with the best scenarios to keep students and staff safe. School systems need our support and constructive criticism. Keep in mind that the decision to start school come August or September did not lie in the hands of the various school officials in the school districts. So asking questions such as, "Why are they starting school right now?" and "What are they thinking by starting school?" is counterproductive and only adds to everyone's stress.
In my case, the option that works best for my family is the traditional option. I have three children, ages 9, 7 and almost 4. As a nurse practitioner, I am not able to work from home and even if I was, I'm sure my work and their schooling would be impacted. Additionally, my husband's career is within the school system. Therefore, we'll have to do our best to make the traditional option as safe as possible for our kids.
Here are 10 things I am doing to prepare my children to return to school in the traditional format.
1. Mask training.
If your children are like mine, they haven't been in public much since March so they are not accustomed to wearing a mask for hours a day. Gradually start getting your child accustomed to wearing a mask by starting with short periods of time at home and increase the time each day. For example, we'll start with 10 minutes and increase to 15 minutes and so forth. Encourage your child not to touch the mask which is very hard for children. Be sure the mask is a proper fit for your child. This will help deter some of the touching. Consider using a lanyard to keep your child from losing the mask and to keep it from falling on the floor when eating or drinking. The lanyard will connect to one of the ear loops of the mask. The main key to wearing a mask is to be sure you are wearing it properly. The mask must cover the nose and the mouth entirely otherwise it is defeating the purpose.
2. Keep hand sanitizer handy.
Encourage your children to sanitize often. Encourage them to be more aware of the things they touch and do. I plan to use a sanitizer holder and attach it to the pants loops of my children's pants or backpack.
3. Pack lunch and snacks.
Likely the school systems are preparing for some type of “no contact” lunch but another option is to just pack your child's lunch and a snack if feasible. This further decreases the likelihood of contamination. Remind your children that they are not to share food with anyone and that no one can share food with them. Be sure your child has a refillable water bottle too.
4. Sanitize, disinfect, wash and repeat.
Sanitize and disinfect book bags and lunch boxes daily. Also, have children take off clothes upon arrival home for washing. If the child will be inside for the remainder of the day, you could go ahead and have them take their bath. Be sure to keep nails trimmed neatly. Shorter nails are easier to clean and maintain.
5. Limit their time at school to school hours as much as you can.
If you are able, try not to allow your child to have too much before school time and after school time. Limiting time at school adds an extra layer of precaution to your safety plan. If your child is riding the bus, be sure they have on their mask and have their sanitizer handy. If your child is going to have to attend after school care, try to pick them up as soon as possible.
6. Continue ongoing teaching about the Coronavirus.
I make it a priority to teach my children about Coronavirus and how it is spread. They need to be aware so that they can help protect themselves. By protecting themselves, they also protect others. Explain it in terms that they will understand. My near four-year-old may not know the ins and outs of the virus but she can tell you to "wear a mask so that you don't get coronavirus".
7. Trust that your school system and the teachers are going to do their best for your children.
I admit this may not seem like second nature because as parents we feel like no one can take care of our children better than us. However, when you think about it, if you are in the position where you have to send your child to school, it is in your best interest to find some semblance of peace in the midst of this pandemic storm. Make it your business to support your school system and review the details of what the plans are. Do your part by adhering to the plans and encourage other parents that you know to do the same. Initiate open and honest communication with your children’s teachers regarding your concerns. I guarantee that the teacher has the same concerns and want to remain virus-free as much as you want your child to remain virus-free.
8. Pray and have faith.
If you are a person of faith, then put your faith in action during this tumultuous time. Pray a prayer of protection and covering for your children, the other children, the teachers and the staff. I’m totally taking God seriously on the pray without ceasing. Do not misinterpret this to mean that because you have faith, you should not use precautions. That is not the case. God gives us wisdom and faith without works is dead.
9. Make a contingency plan.
It is possible that even with best practices that traditional school will have to become virtual. It is possible, despite everyone’s best efforts that if the number of cases keep rising that alternative options will be needed. Heaven forbid students or teachers get sick. In case it becomes necessary, prepare to have something in place should the virtual option become the only option.
10. Monitor your child for symptoms and conduct daily temperature checks.
Checking for fever must become a daily practice. If your child has a fever, make alternative plans for the child to stay home. This is not the time to minimize any symptoms that your child may have. If everyone would be prudent in symptom monitoring, it could prevent others from getting sick, faculty and staff included thus allowing the traditional option to continue. Early intervention is key. If something is going on with your child, do not hesitate to contact your health care provider.
For those who really want to opt for the virtual option but have many of the constraints noted above here is something else to consider. Pool with other parents who also want this option to share responsibility and care. Two or three families could potentially work together to make the virtual option work for them. Creativity is a must during these times to accomplish your goals.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left us with more questions than answers but by working together and encouraging each other we can be successful. Some parents are struggling with guilt regarding the options for their children. I assure you that you have nothing to feel guilty about by making the best decision for your family. Cut yourself some slack. These are unchartered waters for anyone who is under the age of 102. Let’s just all support each other and do the best we can in a difficult situation. This includes our children. Much of how they respond and react has to do with how their parents respond and react. As the children are working to adapt to a new normal, we must continue to love and comfort them while helping them adapt during this time. On a positive note, if history repeats itself in a similar fashion, most of us won’t have to worry about another pandemic in our lifetime. I guess that is lemonade from lemons. :-)
What additional insight or questions do you have regarding school during the pandemic?