Most parents I know (myself included) are currently losing it, weighing whether to do remote learning or go back to school this fall. Those are the people who have a choice. Many districts have already said they are going full remote this year. Other districts are giving parents deadlines to choose between virtual, in-person and hybrid. There are the parents who need to send their kids to school (the essential workers and the people whose employers are requiring them to come into their place of work to keep their jobs) and the parents who could work from home and do distance learning, but know what a nightmare that will be. Case counts vary all over the country, so it’s hard to get a gage from following national news about what exactly is best for your area.

I’m in New York City, where cases are currently very low, so I’ve been thinking we are in a better place to send our kids back. Our kids go to a private school and the administration has told us that they have a plan in place to socially distance everyone— in school, five days a week. We feel incredibly lucky and recognize how privileged we are that this in even on the table. I compared our school’s plan to an article in the New York Times which outlined point-by-point how schools can successfully reopen. Our school checked off every single box. They are doing all the recommended things to keep teachers and students safe.

But then I read about the superintendent in Arizona who said that they did everything right and still ended up with the worst case scenario. Three teachers in his school were teaching a virtual summer school class and decided to teach together from one classroom. They all wore masks and socially distanced, but one teacher got COVID and the other two have since tested positive. Even more awful, that first teacher died. And now, he is still being tasked with reopening his school this fall or he’ll lose 5% of their funding.

As parents, Mike and I are in a pretty good place. We can both work from home and have been pretty good about sharing responsibilities. I work for myself so my schedule is packed but flexible. I’m more involved in childcare and schooling. Mike is more on top of cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning. Mazzy is at a pretty good age to handle distance learning. She’d prefer to be around her friends, and will definitely not get as quality an education (we’ve got some motivation issues), but she’ll get by.

Harlow is a lot trickier. She has difficulties with reading and writing and really needs in-person instruction. During distance learning last year, we realized that she can’t do any of the assignments without parental involvement. Everything, from computer login instructions to google classroom assignments to worksheets to the daily schedule, involves reading. It was painful to watch our enthusiastic student get lost. I’m particularly worried because these are key brain development years for her, that if used properly, could be key to help remediate some of her struggles. We had just started getting her proper help before all this started. Now I feel like she is missing her chance and will fall even farther behind.

Sending Harlow to school seems essential. And, if we send Harlow, we might as well send Mazzy. Decision made.

But then, I was talking to a child psychologist friend who was saying that everyone is only focusing on the benefits of sending their kids back to school. They are talking about the kids doing better academically and how distance learning is a detriment to kids socially. They are weighing the social and academic advantages against the risk of their kids getting the virus and bringing it home. But getting the virus is only part of the risk. She’s equally, if not more worried about the social and emotional implications of kids going back to school, masked, spending the whole day confined to one desk, without being able to touch each other or go near one another. Harlow has always had separation anxiety and it occurred to me that since she started school, there is often a teacher physically helping Harlow separate. Even something as simple as holding her hand and leading her to a different part of the classroom so I can leave. I honestly don’t know if she’ll be able to do what’s being asked of students who go back.

Other social implications are far more traumatic, like the impact of the death of a teacher or student. Sorry to go there, but that’s the reality. What happens emotionally to a kid who tests positive, has a mild case but then learns that they have potentially passed it onto someone who fared way worse? The current statistics say that almost every school will lose at least one student or teacher. If that weren’t traumatic enough, those kids might also blame themselves and wrestle with the personal responsibility of it.

In-person school might be way more traumatizing for our kids than we can currently comprehend.

The other day, I read an article called “Parents: You’re Being Lied To.” It was published on Medium, so it’s not fact-checked, but according to my friends who are teachers— this is the reality. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything and I recommend you read it. The in-person option, if it remains an option, is doing our kids no favors.

The moms I know in my school community and around the city are all split. Some have already made the decision not to send their kids until next semester, when they feel there might be a vaccine or better testing. Others say they are sending their kids, but also believe in-person school is not really going to happen. And even if it does, we’ll be shut down pretty quickly. It’s like we are all going through the motions of making a decision, agonizing over what to do, supposedly moving forward, when in reality, most schools will flip to virtual at the last minute. 

This all reminds me of Mazzy’s sleepaway camp being canceled earlier this summer. They were gearing up and positive and all systems go, until the very last minute. I was relieved, because Mazzy really wanted to go and now I could say that it wasn’t my decision. If I wait it out, maybe I won’t have to make a decision about school either. And maybe that will feel more like a relief than anything else. At least then, I would know exactly what we are in for. 

In the meantime, I am preparing my kids for the reality. I’m not getting them excited about going back to school. I’m telling them what school is really going to look like and that we will most likely return to distance learning at some point, just like last year.