With the start of the new school year in just a few weeks, many of you have reached out by email, phone and appointment requests wanting to hear our thoughts about schools reopening—and our own personal decision for our children.
The truth is, we didn’t write this post initially because we believed it was possible that this decision would be made for all of us—and it very well still may be. In other states, such as Arizona and California, schools are not reopening in August as they usually do.
Here in Boulder, Colorado, at this point, we have two options: we can choose between a hybrid of in-person and remote-learning or we can choose remote-learning only for our children. The details between schools seem to vary slightly. However, what is consistent is that many of us parents are now faced with making yet another decision at a time where information is sparce and many questions cannot be answered.
We give the school district a tremendous amount of credit for the work they have put into presenting us with these options. We know the countless difficult decisions we have had to make for our tiny four-person office—while school districts are trying to balance the needs of thousands of parents, students and teachers!
Both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recently put forth guidance instructing and encouraging schools to reopen this fall.
Questions remain about how COVID-19 spreads amongst children, as well as from children to adults. We believe it is very hard to determine this now, given that most children have had little to no contact with other children (and even with public places such as grocery stores or parks) since March.
With all that said, this post is not going to site the research regarding what has happened thus far as schools around the world have reopened. While we have read much of what has been written, this research is all preliminary because we are still in the middle of this pandemic.
Instead, as both parents and practitioners, we have made our personal decision for our three children (elementary school, middle school and high school) by weighing the risks and rewards for our children and our family as a unit.
We Can’t Open Schools Without Assuming Some Risk
We’d like to point out something up front: we simply can’t open schools without being okay with assuming some degree of risk.
As parents, we routinely balance “risk and reward” for our children: we drive in a car, get on an airplane for vacations, and take our kids mountain biking and skiing. We take risks each time we choose their new babysitter or send them off to overnight camp. Each year we continue to send our kids to school—throughout cold and flu season and despite the fact that US schools have seen a tragic rise in gun violence on school campuses.
Each and every one of these things assumes some risk, but we’ve decided that the benefits generally outweigh them.
Chris Kresser makes a great analogy to reopening society by equating it to creating speed limits. He says:
”There are about 38,000 traffic deaths a year in the United States. And I think it’s pretty clear that if we reduce the speed limit to one mile per hour we would probably eliminate almost 100 percent of those deaths, right? It’s pretty hard to die in a traffic accident if you’re going one mile per hour.
But the fact is, we have already made a calculation where we have collectively agreed as a society to set a speed limit that will certainly lead to thousands of deaths each year. But we have agreed as a society to do that, because we recognize that if the speed limit was significantly lower, and low enough to prevent all deaths, that would lead to many other undesirable consequences.
How would food get delivered to the supermarket? Imagine trucks on the highway going one mile per hour. By the time the food gets there, it’s rotten. No two-hour Amazon Prime food delivery. Try two weeks or more.
This is something I’m sure few of us ever think about when we’re out driving and we see a speed limit sign. That sign is essentially a compromise, where we’re saying we’re going to accept a certain number of deaths per year, so that we can have a functioning society.”Chris Kresser
Returning to school during COVID is really not all that different. It only feels different because, well, this our first pandemic—we have nothing remotely similar to compare it to.
Individuals not only have different risk tolerances; they also have different needs that they weigh those risks against in order to determine how great the reward will ultimately be.
The Rewards & Risks of Attending School
There is no doubt that schools provide an incredible benefit. Schools foster our children’s academic growth and are the places where kids cultivate friendship and connection. For many children, schools provide meals or special needs instruction. As parents, we rely on school being open to allow us to work and provide for our family financially.
When deciding about sending your children back to school this year, you will have to personally weigh the benefits against the risks.
You May Find it Helpful to Think Through Some of These Questions
Children & Family
- Will my child do better with “in-person” or “remote” instruction?
- How is my child’s health? How’s the health of others in our household? Does anyone have risk factors for COVID-19 complications?
- Do parents need to work? Is someone able to stay home or work from home?
- Will siblings go to school on the same days or will they have different schedules?
- What does my child need most from school and will he/she be able to get that from school this year?
- If school closes abruptly, how will that effect my child? Others in our family? Our ability to work?
- How will I feel when I learn about COVID cases in the district? My child’s school? My child’s class?
School & Community
- What is my child’s class size?
- Will my child have his/her close friends at school this year?
- Is my child’s school making changes that will support more frequent hand washing, the wearing of masks, physical distancing and other measures to help reduce the spread of COVID-19?
- Will my child have lunch and recess breaks or remain in the classroom all day?
- What is the school’s (or county’s) expectations for quarantine if a teacher becomes ill or tests positive? A classmate becomes ill or tests positive? My child becomes ill or tests positive?
- What is the school’s (or county’s) expectations for parent’s quarantining if someone in my child’s school or class becomes ill or tests positive?
- How many cases will it take for my child’s school to close down temporarily? For good?
- What is the degree of community spread where my child attends school?
Be Prepared for Unanswered Questions
These are many of the questions that we personally asked and the topics that we discussed as a family. The truth is, many of these questions do not have concrete answers at this time.
As hard as that is, we also understand why.
If you were to ask us today if our office will remain open all winter long, we simply don’t know. If this pandemic has taught us one lesson, its to take things day by day.
Our Personal Responsibility
At a time of great uncertainty, there is one thing that we can all do: assume personal responsibility.
First and foremost, as parents, we must commit to being responsible and not sending children to in-person school or any small group activities when there is even a remote chance that they might be sick—with anything! This is the only way we will be able to reduce disruptions due to quarantines, as well as minimize spreading the virus in our community. We must also commit to playing it safe and staying home ourselves if we feel unwell.
Good friends recently told us that their private community pool had to shut down for two weeks after a mom brought her son to a swim meet. The son had been tested for COVID a few days prior and they were awaiting results. The day after the meet, the testing came back positive, and the pool was forced to close and several dozen families were asked to self-quarantine.
The second way we can take personal responsibility is by supporting our body and immune system to be as resilient as possible. Just like with any disease, the more resilient you are, the safer you are.
Unfortunately, the opposite is happening right now. Many kids and adults have been less active and consuming more processed foods during this difficult time.
In a situation that is so outside of our control, we can take control of our physical and mental health and support our kids to do the same.
- Our website is filled with hundreds of recipes and articles to help you get started on a healthier path
- And please contact us to schedule a pediatric or nutrition appointment if you feel that your immune system, your diet, or your overall health could use additional support
- Additionally, we have been writing about COVID since February. Here are just a few articles that may interest you:
- Coronavirus: What You Need to Know & How to Stay Safe
- Balancing the Risk of Contracting COVID-19 With the Need to Venture Back Into the World
- How Do You Stay Calm During Times of Chaos?
- 5 Powerful Tools to Relieve Stress & Anxiety
- Your Teen in Quarantine: Encouraging Connection & Warning Signs of Anxiety and Depression
Our Family’s Decision Regarding School
Since many of you have asked us to share what our three children are doing for this upcoming school year, we will do so. We will start by saying that these discussions had us laughing, stressing, polling our closest friends, in lengthy discussions with our family, emailing school authorities, and changing our minds a half dozen times. Ultimately, we realized that we had to simply make a decision with the information we had at hand. And the same is true for you.
Given that we personally believe that schools will likely close again at some point, we have decided to opt our children into remote-learning. We were already going to have to adapt our schedules to accommodate remote-learning the majority of the week, and so Debbie (who has been working through Telehealth since March 6th) plans to continue that. Remote-learning (although we are still unclear how it will look exactly) provides some sense of consistency with less starts, stops, or interruptions (hopefully!).
We also want and need the support of Debbie’s 70-yr old parents, who are higher risk than we are, and that factored into our decision.
Most of our kid’s friends (especially our 4th grader) are choosing remote-learning and this allowed us the ability to form “pods” with their closest friends—for small group learning and social interactions.
There is really no right decision. There is only the one that feels right to you.
Please let us know if this information is helpful for you—and we’d love to hear what you have decided for your children’s upcoming school year.
We are all living though this and learning together simultaneously! And we will come through this together as well.
Debbie & Dr. Roy Steinbock
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So well written!!!! Just shared with several parents, thank you!
Thank you for the kind works and for sharing!! Hope YOU are well!!
We went through a very similar process and came to the same conclusion. 🙂
It was nice to see another parent weighing the decision like this. 🙂
Why am I not surprised our process and conclusions were similar to one another? Ha!
This is awesome!!!! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and expertise. You all are totally amazing. Xx
Thank you! We are both big fans of you as well! 🙂
Thanks Roy & Debbie, this was very appreciated. We came to the same decision, but for different reasons. One bit of this puzzle that is very important – what is the risk teachers will be assuming? It’s a much riskier situation for some of them. I urge any parent who wants a teachers perspective to email their favorite teacher and ask how they are feeling. When we did that, we found out that 68 percent of the teachers at our school were uncomfortable teaching in person, and many of them wouldn’t be returning (if forced to). What kind of experience will that be for the kids? Mostly substitutes at the school? This issue is so complex. Thanks for your insight. And if you ever have time to blog about pods and how to safely setup rules and guidelines for everyone in the pod to follow – I’d love to read that! Thanks for all you do!
Thank you! What a great point you make about substitute teachers vs. the grade level teachers that kids are expecting. And yes, many of us are having to make decisions about work, employees…and health risks. As you said: this is SO COMPLEX!
From what I hear, people are learning about “pod guidelines” on social media groups. We are not on social media anymore. But I think that, like everything, guidelines will depend on each little groups comfort levels with so many factors. Feel free to write a guest post if you dive into this 😉
We came to the same conclusion for our family for the same reasons. Our children also catch colds easily and illnesses last longer for them. I imagine anxiety would take over once they came home with a cold of any kind. Schools need some families to embrace remote learning in order to keep class sizes low. Since I am able to stay home with my 3rd grader and 9th grader for now, I am planning to help them with their remote learning and I plan to return to school (online) myself for my Masters. The three of us will be learning side by side.
Sounds like you made a great decision for your family – the three of you learning side by side!! And that is another great point- that schools do need some of us to opt into remote-learning to maintain small class sizes. Thank you for that!
Thanks – this is very helpful! Have passed it on to friends who are wrestling with this decision or are concerned about grandkids going back to school.
So glad it was helpful! Yes, we hear from our parents about the struggle of many of their friends who are not seeing grandchildren. This situation is heartbreaking in so many ways…
Thank you so much Dr. Roy. There is no Dr.’s opinion that I trust more than yours. Thanks for your honesty and how you went about making the decision as a family. You are the BEST!! Thank you!!!
Thank you so much, your trust in us really means the world to me. I’m so glad that Debbie and I can bring our community any comfort and guidance or help during this truly challenging time.
I just wanted to say thank you for your post about sending kids back to school. I found it to be very grounding when I was having an anxious day. We still are not sure what our school year will look like, but it helps to have questions to consider.
Thanks and be well,
I am so glad to hear that the questions to consider were helpful for you. Thank you for taking the time to let us know.
This is a very anxiety provoking time and I just want you to know that I can completely relate to that. Uncertainty is very ungrounding.
Theses decisions are difficult and certainly not “one size fits all”. Especially those related to our children.
Sending love to you and your kids for whatever the year brings…
I loved reading this. So sensible.
We live in California and our 5-year old starts summer camp (all outdoors today) and our 2-year old is back in daycare. We did the risk/reward calculation to our best ability. We aren’t seeing any grandparents and no one in our home is immune compromised- and the thought of our son not playing with kids his age for a year seems harmful. We’re fully remote for school this year which means at a minimum he will have been out of physical school for 10 months, if they even go back to school In January. That’s no bueno.
I am thankful for your research and for sharing it in this easy to digest way.
We made similar choices for our 9-year old. Last week she did “camp at home” with three close friends – the camp sends a counselor to your house and they take the kids on outdoor adventures in your neighborhood. The kids had a blast! She has also done a few very small art classes at a local studio that has implemented good safety measures. I emailed them last week letting them know that I can see her beaming smile, even behind her mask, as she exits the art studio! This is sooooo important for their mental and emotional well-being.
These have been 100% our thoughts as well!
We are choosing remote because we prefer the consistency of the remote environment (we know it’s where we will be and can adapt) over what may be a roller coaster of a year going back and forth.
In looking further at what ‘social interaction/socialization’ at school *actually* means in a COVID-19 world (distance, limited group activity/projects, very little playground time), we decided that a remote learning pod had much more opportunity for our son and a few of his remote learning peers to interact not only safely, but with much less restriction.
With remote learning we can have actual play time several times/day in lieu of one socially distant 15 minute outside period. We can choose actual field trips with other POD/remote kids, something our district will not be offering this year. We can organize small groups for music and art and P.E. We will be outside a LOT, just as we have been.
We feel very lucky to be in a position to comfortably choose the remote option, and are going to also be taking in one child from a working parent (a neighbor) to learn during the day with us.
The more kids who stay out of school, the lower the risk will be (and the more opportunity will be available) for the kids who don’t get to make this choice and absolutely must return to in-person school. This belief really pushed us towards the remote model.
Thank you for your thoughtful share! I read this at 7:30 pm, a few hours after BVSD just announced that school will ALL begin as remote this year! It seems that many people had also come to the same conclusions that you had reached 🙂