To School or not to School – that is the Question

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It’s the question on everyone’s mind – should our kids go to in-person school this coming year?

girls on desk looking at notebook in school
Photo by Pixabay on

Let’s face it, even if you’re a planner like me, and had a bottle of rubbing alcohol, some face masks and hand sanitizer tucked away in your emergency kit — you could never have planned to be a parent in the middle of a global pandemic. For sure, we were not prepared to complete a risk-benefit analysis of returning to in-person schooling.

Fear and loathing

On top of that, we’d never have imagined that the basic safety of humans would become a political football – and, no matter which news channel we watch, we’re left feeling as though we didn’t get the full story.

But, yet, here we are. Left to dig for facts, some empirical evidence to help us make the right decision. Or, perhaps you’re an essential worker — where the decision has all but been made for you — and you just want to know what measures you can employ to minimize risk.

Kids are germy. Especially younger ones. Snot, spit, surface-licking, put-stuff-in-their-mouths germy. (Ask any family who has passed around the same runny-nose-and-cough from March to May, and they will agree.) Parents are picturing that same kid – our kids- returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic and we all experience a collective cringe.

Add developmental and/or intellectual disabilities into that mix, and perhaps you’re experiencing a full-blown panic attack.

online education vs. in person

Then, you take a deep breath, re-assess the situation and panic all over again as you realize your kiddo actually IS falling behind. That online school doesn’t take the place of the team that supports them throughout the school year. In fact, many parents I’ve talked to have expressed that online school for kids with disabilities is a joke, was created in lala land, the reason liquor stores are deemed essential during a pandemic, just not a good fit.

Making an informed decision

Working in healthcare for the last few decades, I have been trying to look at the prospect of school through a different lens – to see what, if any wisdom I can apply to this situation. I know my kids benefit from being IN school. And, for my daughter with disabilities? She is desperately missing the services she needs to be her best self.

As a parent, I know I can’t go back to what I tried to accomplish from March to June. The Zoom calls are only a couple of hours — however, it’s the assigned work –none of which can be done independently by my kiddo — that we struggled with the most. There’s just not enough hours in the day.

What data is out there?

I’ve looked to studies, and it seems that there’s good evidence that children infected with the virus do not get as sick as adults. The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics agree. That, however, is little comfort for those living in a household with someone who has risk factors like age or conditions like diabetes.

We also know that physical distancing, handwashing and masks work to reduce the spread. For kids, and especially those with disabilities, this may be a challenge for a full school day.

Lots more questions than answers

Should schools open here, I will be reviewing the plan before making a decision. I want to know what measures will be taken to ramp up environmental cleaning, hygiene and distancing. How often they will clean and disinfect the bus, and how they’ll handle physical education, music class, and other specials. Will classes change? And, if so, how will hall traffic be reduced? Who is cleaning the outside of lockers and how often? (I don’t envy school administrators who are in planning mode right now.)

For my part, I’m watching local case numbers to understand the current environment. I’m also using social stories and practicing the basics with my kids like hand washing, distancing and wearing a mask. These are good habits whether kids return to school or not.

Click HERE to join our mailing list get your copy of social stories about handwashing, distancing, hand washing and cough etiquette.

Printable social stories for COVID-19 designed for special needs families.
Get Printable COVID-19 Social Stories here

My plan of action

Should schools reopen, I’ll only send my kids back if I’m comfortable with their plan. If I’m not, I will consider submiting a plan to homeschool – rather than attempt to crisis school online again. At least with homeschooling, I can build a curricula that makes sense for my kids and family rather than handing in an assignment so a teacher can check the box for the purpose of getting a paycheck, checking the box, to prove we did it, supporting learning.

OK, I admit, that last statement was a little unfair. I do know many teachers personally, and they are doing the best they can – but the number of collective assignments is just too much for a family who has working parents. Personally, I can’t teach full time and work full time and be a PT, OT and Speech therapist — it just isn’t possible. (Not if we care about eating and sleeping anyways). Especially for those in special education, if online school continues, it needs to meet everyone’s needs better, which might mean evening Zoom opportunities (or recorded webinars) for kids of essential workers.

Seek productS that help protect

If my kids do go back to school, I know they will be well-practiced in the basics. We have started using Theraworx, a product used in hospitals, as an extra layer of protection. I am not affiliated with the company, but learned about them via my healthcare background. It’s foam that’s easy to apply and works as a protectant (and you can order it on Amazon).

Tough Decision

This is one of the most agonizing decisions I’ve had to make. Harder than the decision itself is finding a reliable source of information to help support it. What I can do is share tools and resources to help support decision-making, and send lots of love and strength to my fellow parents out there who are going through this exact same thing.

Related Links
4 (free) Social Stories: handwashing, cough etiquette, distancing and masks
10 Questions to ask the School about their COVID-19 plan – printable

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  1. I am asking the same question. And I am asking it separately for each of my children. There is no right answer. Any or all of the options leave me with a “I don’t want to do that” feeling. I think that is how parents, teachers, administrators alike are all feeling. There are no black and white choices here and I think there will be a major learning curve with whatever plan they start with. It’s tough!

  2. Ben’s autism non-public school was set to offer on campus 2 days a week… then bars, hair salons, barber shops, places or worship… opened… now our numbers are spiking out of control. There will be no on campus until things level out again. I was okay with 2 days a week at his school. Now I don’t have that option and he’s falling farther and farther behind.

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