12 parents share their plans and fears for going back to school during COVID-19

July 7, 2020

It’s still summer time, but all over the country, parents, child care providers and educators are already scrambling to make plans for the upcoming academic year. Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in several U.S. states, which has many wondering if there’s any possible way for kids to return to school and day care safely. A lot of parents are also feeling stressed about how to manage child care so they can continue to work or return to work when day cares and schools haven’t yet reopened.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has advised school officials to plan with “a goal of having students physically present,” though their guidelines stress the importance of taking safety precautions and responding quickly to new information or changes in the numbers of cases of illness. In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published guidelines to help school and child care administrators assess the risks of opening back up. In some states, school districts have already announced plans to allow kids to learn at home virtually or attend school on a reduced schedule. Meanwhile, the results of a Gallup poll published in June show 56% of parents are in favor of kids returning to school full-time, about 37% of parents say they’d prefer part-time school with some distance learning and just 7% of parents want full-time distance learning. 

Parents and educators face tough decisions as we head into the fall, and there are no easy answers. To see how families around the country are coping, we talked to 12 parents around the country about their plans and worries for what’s to come.

1. I was ready to send my son to school, but now I’m having doubts

“My son is heading into eighth grade, and he’ll be doing hybrid learning with half the day in school and half the day at home. I was adamant that he follow this model over 100% distance learning because he needs interactions with others outside our home. My husband and I both work full time, and I don't feel I can give my son the attention he needs, even at 13 years old. Being in school half the day would mean I could focus on work while he's there and be a better parent the rest of the day. However, given the rise in cases, I'm growing increasingly concerned about sending him to school … No option seems even moderately safe right now.” — Michelle Longo, parent of one, Los Angeles

2. Our school has no safety plans, and I’m not OK with it

“Our school will not be implementing any social distancing protocols, nor will it require any masks. It will be business as usual and back to pre-pandemic routines. I am not OK with this if the numbers still stay the way they are currently. I also don’t want to home-school again, and my child needs a real teacher, not me. I really don’t know what we will do.” — Maura Roby-Keogel, parent of one, Fort Worth, Texas

3. My kids are going back to school, and I can’t wait

“My older kids are in private school, and we received an email a week ago saying they were ‘unequivocally committed’ to in-person school. My younger twins are in preschool, which also announced they are planning to meet in person. Although I take the virus seriously, I'm thrilled my kids will be in school. I think it's safer than kids being in school half the time and in varying day care situations half the time. I'm sad they’ll have to wear a mask, have their temperature checked every day and eat lunch in the classroom, but I think it's the best option we've got.” — Lindsey Jones, parent of four, Greenville, South Carolina

4. We already had the virus, but I’m still nervous

“My family had COVID-19, and I have mixed feelings about the kids going back to in person classes in the fall. Even though my kids recovered from the virus and the subsequent inflammatory reaction and thankfully had mild cases, I’m not positive their antibodies will protect them from getting it again. They’re enrolled in a smaller school in our area, and our hope is that smaller class size and cohorting will help find that balance between giving them the socialization they need and keeping them healthy.” — Megan Z., parent of two, New Haven, Connecticut

5. We’ve been home since March 12, and we’re staying put

“I have a 5-year-old entering kindergarten who also participates in special education, and a 2-year-old who is supposed to start preschool. We already know Texas schools will open, masks will not be required by the state and we’ll have the option to choose between virtual or in-person learning. As a stay-at-home mom, I’m in a position to keep my children home, and that’s what we’re going to do. It’s not ideal, but we’ve been home since March 12. I know schools need to open for some kids, and having fewer kids there will make it easier to social distance. I want that environment to be safe for those who need it most.” — Meghan Harper, parent of two, Dallas

6. I have no child care, and our new au pair can’t get a visa

“My daughter is supposed to start kindergarten this fall, and my younger child will go to preschool three mornings a week. We have an au pair who is leaving at the beginning of September, but our new one will not be able to come to the U.S. because of the recent visa ban. I need to find local care, but I don’t know what I need because the school hasn't told us their plan, my office doesn't have a plan and my husband is home working but unable to help out. I don't love the idea of having outside help come in since the wave of cases is always changing, whereas an au pair lives with us. The fact that nearly everything is unknown is anxiety inducing, and I feel completely out of control.” — Kristen Beddard Heiman, parent of two, Briarcliff Manor, New York

7. As long as schools are closed, my career suffers

“I'm having a lot of emotions about the fact that this is continuing into the fall. When we went to distance learning in March, I felt like I was just putting off my own career for a couple of months while we dealt with this. Now it's going to be long term, and while I’m thankful I’m able to be home with the kids, it's not where I saw myself at this point in my life. I stayed home with them when they were little, and the plan was to get back to my own career once they were in grade school, which happened this year. And now this. Yet another year sliding by without me working.” — Ramsey Hootman, parent of two, San Francisco

8. If schools don’t reopen, I’m afraid for my son’s mental health

“My kids have serious mental health needs that are exacerbated by being home from school. My 8-year-old has severe Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) and anxiety, and he needs to be in a structured environment away from his siblings for a little while each day. 

We were making progress in his treatment before the pandemic, but ever since he’s been unable to access school and in-person mental health care, his symptoms are back full force. He’s violent and threatens suicide. We had to hospitalize him for 10 days. I think my son’s risk of contracting or spreading COVID is much smaller than his risks of more violent outbursts if we’re forced to keep him home from school in the fall. I want them to put precautions in place, like wearing masks and frequent hand-washing, but we need to get our kids back in school.” — Nicole Renzi Roder, parent of four, Bowie, Maryland

9. I work full time so I can’t keep my daughter home from school

“Right now we have options for full-time school, part-time school with an online component or all online school, but I work, so I don't feel like I really have a choice. My daughter will have to go back to school, and I just have to protect her as best as I can with masks, hand-washing and social distancing. Her school will do the best they can on their end. It's so hard to really know what will happen between now and August, and things may very well get shut down again. I’m trying to plan, but I just have no idea what to expect.” — Sarah Davis, parent of one, Sacramento, California

10. My son needs school support for his learning differences, but I don’t know if it’s safe

“My son's Individualized Education Program (IEP) disappeared from March through June, and I discovered just how much support he needs and how bad online schooling is for his dyslexia and dysgraphia. He's also a social creature and dying to go back even though he hates school. I've considered home schooling or enrolling him in an intensive dyslexia program this fall, which is currently planned for online learning. We likely won't know what school will look like until closer to September, and even then, they will adjust based on infection data. I’ve read that day cares open for essential workers have not had outbreaks, but I'm still worried.” — Vera Shanti Giles, parent of one, Issaquah, Washington

11. Safety comes first, even though it’s not ideal

“I am leaning strongly toward enrolling my second grader in a virtual academy provided by her school for the fall semester. We have the option to send her back to school, and I think she'd be happier there, but I don't think it will be safe yet. I work from home, and I feel keeping my daughter home will allow better social distancing for kids who need to attend school because their parents work outside the home. It's extremely annoying and far from ideal because she learns better in a classroom, and I won't be able to work as many hours, but safety comes first.” — Lori Goshert, parent of one, Tallahassee, Florida

12. The uncertainty is hard on my daughter (and on me, too)

“It seems like every week it’s a different story with the pandemic. I’m feeling depressed about the whole thing. I’m waiting to hear what the school has planned, and I’m trying to not give my 8-year-old daughter any specifics about potential school schedules right now because I know things will inevitably change, which is tough on her. My husband said it best, I think: ‘It’s hard to tell kids to sit with uncertainty when it’s such a hard thing for adults to do.’ Unfortunately, that’s the only option we have right now.” — Neva Cole, parent of one, Raymond, New Hampshire

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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