Is it safe to send our kids back to school this September, while the coronavirus pandemic still lingers?
It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot in recent weeks. Flea is just heading into Year 11, which is a crucial year for her education. Her school made the decision to end summer term early, and start the summer term in August. So my teen headed off for her first day of school yesterday.
In the run-up to the big day, I had mixed feelings. Excited for Flea to see her friends again. Pleased she’d be back in a classroom with the support of teachers.
But also worried. Worried because I know one of Flea’s friends (who attends another local school) just tested positive for coronavirus. Worried because I know some families taken different views of lockdown, meaning lots of the kids at school will not have been social distancing, limiting the number of people they socialise with, or avoiding travel.
If you’re in the same boat, I thought I’d share what Flea’s school looks like, complete with Covid-19 safety measures. And how safe is it to send our kids back to school?
New Covid School Rules
The biggest change in schools this September is likely to be the introduction of a bunch of new rules and safety measures. Flea’s school has done a pretty thorough job in doing all the required risk assessments and setting up policies to minimise the risk of cross-infection. As a parent I’ve been sent a huge number of documents and policy links.
Some of the most obvious changes in the secondary school are:
- One way system implemented around school
- Staggered start times, break times and lunch times
- Students in year group bubbles, so no socialising with other children
- Each year group has a designated set of toilets and a designated outside area for break time
- Students are expected to social distance and not to share equipment at any time
- On days where there is PE, students to wear PE kit all day to avoid using changing rooms
- Masks may be worn, but are not mandatory (except on school buses)
- Plenty of hand sanitiser and hand-washing facilities freely available
- Extra staff to clean and mist the school daily, plus an extra full-time nurse
- Replacing paper planners with online homework diaries (finally!)
It’s School, but not as we Know It
Overall, Flea said that school felt pretty normal. The timetable is as expected, and there’s lunchtime and break time, and sports practices and PE and CCF. Typically for my teen, the thing she was most interested in is whether a teacher can still confiscate your phone, or is that unnecessary sharing of equipment?
As a parent, I feel a little sad that some of the experiences of school are missing. No flirting with the boys from the year above, no school trips, or outward bound courses or school productions. Break times are actually shorter to allow for 30 minutes of extra teaching each day.
The head teacher says the school is focusing on a “traditional education” (I think this is code for ‘we will get these kids through their exams come what may’). I’m pleased, of course, but it’s tinged with some sadness for what the kids will miss.
The Reality of Back to School
Any parent of teens will tell you that expecting teens to follow all the rules all the time is like wishing for a unicorn. It’s a lovely idea, but…
They’re teens. They’re hormonal and emotional and impulsive and frequently irrational. One day they’ll follow all the coronavirus safety rules perfectly, and the next day you’ll catch them snogging their boyfriend in the changing rooms, or sitting on their best friend’s knee in the lunch hall.
It’s inevitable, isn’t it?
Within two hours of arriving at secondary school yesterday, Flea had texted me, shocked. There was an assembly where kids sat shoulder to shoulder. Children were sitting two to a desk in lessons. Nobody was wearing a mask. Even the teachers were saying things like, “Well, officially you should be 2 metres apart, but…”
My teen is not known for her naturally studious nature. To say the least. But she skipped lunch yesterday and opted to study in the library instead. Based on her observations, she was worried there would be no social distancing going on that day.
What Can We Do?
It’s worrying to hear this from Flea, but I’m hoping against hope this was a bit of first day back chaos. My thoughts after sending my child back to secondary school in a pandemic are:
- Give schools a little time and the benefit of the doubt. They’ve had weeks to put in place policies and rules and plans, and it’s not surprising if it takes a few days to get these up and running once you factor in 500 kids, and a few dozen teachers.
- When your child gets home, encourage them to change immediately. Spritz uniform with disinfectant spray and hang it outside to air, OR wash it daily if you can. We also use a disinfectant spray on Flea’s school bag and supplies.
- Remind your child they are only responsible for their choices. Encourage them to look at situations and avoid crowds, wear a mask if they feel it’s appropriate, don’t just do what the other kids do, blindly.
- Every day Flea comes home with a mask that has been thoroughly worn, I pay her £5. Is this good parenting? No. Will I do it? Yes. Because you have to do something to counter the, “but nobody else is wearing one, and I feel stupid,” argument.
- Lastly, we’ve made the decision to stop seeing my parents in person except for socially distant cups of coffee in the garden. My Dad has only just stopped shielding and this feels like the right move for our family.
Are your kids heading back to school soon? How are you feeling about it? Do you think it’s safe to send kids back to school during a pandemic?