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:

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.

With love,
Debbie & Dr. Roy Steinbock

About Dr. Roy & Debbie Steinbock

Mindful Family Medicine is the practice of Dr. Roy Steinbock, M.D., Board Certified & Holistic Pediatrician, and Debbie Steinbock, HHC, Holistic Health & Nutrition Counselor. Mindful Family Medicine combines science and evidence-based medicine with a holistic and integrative approach.

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