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It’s been ten weeks since I wrote about keeping kids safe in school, and whether I thought it was safe for Flea to go back to school. That ten weeks has felt like the longest half-term in history.
Right now, Flea is going into her second week of half-term, and that means a second full week of revision in preparation for her mock GCSE exams, which start in a couple of weeks.
On the basis that this is an important year, and we can’t possibly know just how much those mock exams might count for, I’m keen for Flea to keep attending school. Personally, I think closing schools would be pretty detrimental for my child. She’s not massively self-motivated to study, and she needs the encouragement and support of her teachers to achieve her full potential.
I was reassured this article by in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, which seems to suggest that kids are at relatively low risk of contracting Covid in school classrooms, particularly in secondary schools where kids don’t spend all day in one room, and are mostly listening to a teacher, rather than chatting (you’d hope). Basically if a room is ventilated, and the children spend less than one hour inside the room, then the risk of contracting Covid from an infected teacher (the riskiest scenario) is pretty low.
That said, sending my teen into school isn’t without worry. It DOES feel quite a lot like dangling her over a pit of crocodiles every morning when I send her into school.
In a situation where I have very little control, or ability to protect my child, we’ve set up some basic precautions and ground rules for staying safe in school. It goes without saying that I can’t say with total certainty, my teen always follows these rules, but we can only hope for the best!
Six Ways of Keeping Kids Safe in School During Covid
Daily: Mask, Gel, Wipes
Flea gets a freshly washed mask every day, and a spare inside her school bag. This means there’s no excuse for not having a mask, and the school requires them to be worn in corridors between lessons. I recommend to Flea that she wipes down desks when she sits down, and sanitises her hands after touching any communal school equipment.
When it comes to masks, I put ethical and eco considerations to one side because honestly, I just need a decent mask with proper filters, that my teenager will consider wearing. And that means a hard NO to my pretty striped reusable masks.
Social Distancing and Skipping Lunch
Under normal circumstances, lunchtime is a really important time for teens. I’ve always stressed to Flea that your brain needs calories to work, after all. These days, Flea has agreed to skip the dining hall. Evidence suggests that confined spaces and loud speaking is not a great combination when it comes to spreading infection.
Instead, I pack Flea off to school with two or three small snacks – maybe a piece of fruit and a Cheese String, or a cereal bar and a mini pack of pretzels. It’s not ideal, but I can make her something more nutritious when she gets home at 4pm, and we both feel safer as a result.
No School Bus
Talking of confined spaces, Flea would usually get the bus to and from school each day. This term, I’ve decided that if we’re making changes and keeping kids safe in school, then that equally applies to the school run! So for now, we’re driving.
It’s not the most eco-friendly choice. But I think being on a small bus with lots of kids and trusting them all to keep their masks on, and not shout, or mess around… well, it’s a big ask, isn’t it? Driving Flea to and from school, or letting her walk, just removes one more small risk from her daily routine.
Keeping kids safe in school during Covid ultimately relies on test and trace. And that’s still a work in progress in this country.
When Flea was sent home from school due to a cough, I quickly learned that there’s no guarantee that you will be able to get a Covid test, when it’s needed. Getting NHS appointments was hit and miss, and for a time, I really worried we’d be left without. Fortunately, Flea’s school gave us a test for my teen. But I struggled to get an NHS test appointment for myself and Flea’s Dad.
After 24 hours without success, I ordered private tests from Lloyds Pharmacy at £120 per test. It’s not cheap but my view is that a) a quickly performed private test would allow us to get back to normal life more quickly and b) paying for private tests would free up an NHS slot for someone who might need it far more desperately than us, or who didn’t have the ability to pay.
As it happened, the tests were delayed in the post and by the time they arrived five days later, I’d managed to get an NHS test, although Flea’s Dad wasn’t so lucky. I have kept the spare test in the cupboard so if we’re in the same boat again, we will be able to get a test done quickly and easily.
I’m also working with the CovidTestsKit.com website to help spread the word about their private testing service. Unlike Lloyds, the Covid Back to School test site is perfect for families and can process tests for young people under 18. On the website, you can order a test for £120, and your result comes with a certificate showing the negative result (obviously, if the result IS negative). The certificate can also be used to show you are fit to fly, or safe to return to work. The company also offers in-school testing for groups of staff or students in London.
Daily Uniform Spritzes and Changes
I know that the risk of infection from surfaces is considered low, but I still feel better knowing Flea has a fresh change of uniform each day. When she gets home from school, she changes and puts her uniform in the laundry basket where it sits for at least 24 hours. She sprays her coat and blazer with an antibacterial fabric freshener spray, and takes a shower before she puts on her home clothes.
Boosting the Immune System
I have read in several places now that individuals with higher levels of vitamin D in their system are less likely to catch respiratory infections. On this basis, I ensure that Flea takes a daily multivitamin with added zinc and vitamin c, plus a separate vitamin d supplement. I get huge bottles of vitamin gummy bears from Costco, which means Flea is quite happy to take them. Even at 15, the prospect of something that seems like sweets at breakfast is a winner!
Ultimately, Flea being in school isn’t safe. It’s a calculated risk. And I can’t really fully express how sad I am that we need to be making those calculations at all. If your family decides to take a different approach and keep your kids home, then I think that’s totally reasonable in the circumstances. All we can do it what feels right for our families. What do you think?