Commentary: What parents should know about schools and COVID-19

By Jill Linden

Gov. John Carney announced that public school systems may offer either hybrid learning (at school some weekdays, home on the others) or full-time home learning. Details can be decided by each school district. School systems have already announced differing plans, including delaying the hybrid program for two to six weeks and phasing in school attendance for different grades over time.

Jill Linden

Households in which an adult is home full time can adjust to a school’s changing or part-time schedule. However, parents who work low-paying, full-time jobs outside the home may find it difficult to handle part-time school attendance for their child. Day care programs will pick full-time attendees over part-time ones to fill their limited slots. Many employers, especially those in financial difficulty, may not want to adjust an employee’s hours to fit her child’s part-time school schedule.

Many parents will have to choose between quitting their jobs or perhaps arranging for a friend to watch their children. This friend may be caring for several children. She may not be willing or able to teach well. She may not be careful with virus prevention, which could result in a child who is in a hybrid program returning to school and infecting other children and parents.

Some parents have a choice about whether to send their kids back to school. This may be a very difficult decision. You should consider the pros and cons, as they apply to your family.

Pros for sending kids back to school

• Most parents are not trained teachers and may worry that they can’t help their children as much as a teacher can. This is especially true if a child has special needs requiring specialized teaching techniques.

• Some households do not have the computer needed to teach children from home. Even though some school systems are talking about giving students computer tablets to use at home, some households have poor or no internet connectivity.

• It will help children think that things are more normal.

• It will give children the chance to interact and learn to get along with many more people.

• Schools will work hard to use the best possible cautions for the virus.

• Parents who must work full time at home to keep their jobs will have difficulty balancing that with teaching and caring for children, as well.

• Parents and children will likely get along better if they have times away from each other.

• Most day care staff are not trained to teach grade school subjects and do not want to do so.

Cons against sending kids back to school

• They have to wear masks, and your child refuses to do so.

• They might catch COVID-19 from a classmate or teacher. Someone who is obviously sick would not be allowed to stay at school, but a person can be infected and contagious without showing symptoms.

• You or someone else can provide safe, competent instruction for your child outside of school.

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You and your child probably have many questions about school this semester. They might include:

• What kind of screening or testing will be done before children are allowed to stay in school?

• When will children have to wear a mask or face shield? Is a particular type required (such as a clear mask)? If so, who pays for it?

• What happens with the rest of the class if one child tests positive for COVID-19?

• If your child’s class starts the school year with six weeks of all at-home learning, what determines whether children will go to school part time or full time after six weeks?

• If parents do not want their child to attend school at all, might there be negative legal consequences? What kind of instruction and testing will be provided by the school to such families?

• Is the school providing transportation? If so, you will want to know about masks, distancing and cleaning on the bus before you decide whether you want your child to use it.

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After months away from school, some children will find it hard to adapt to the schedules and rules at school. To help them adjust, you can start about two weeks before in-school classes begin to make the weekday meals and bedtimes at home like what your children will have on school days. Also, children should be encouraged to do activities, such as reading, jigsaw puzzles and craft projects, that require quiet focus. Just because a child can sit quietly for a lively television program or a noisy computer game does not mean that he can quietly pay attention to a soft teacher’s voice.

If your child is not used to wearing a mask, find out whether this will be required at school. If so, you and the child together should practice wearing masks for increasingly longer periods of time. If you do activities and trips he likes while you are both wearing masks, he will develop some positive associations with wearing a mask.

If your child says she doesn’t want to go back to school, try to find out the reason. It may be a worry about the virus or wearing a mask or not being able to do the schoolwork. You might want to talk about this with your child’s teacher or principal before school resumes.

Jill Linden, Ph.D., is a retired child psychologist and school consultant.