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Challenge: Back to School 2021

Back to school during a pandemic (again)

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Last year, I wrote an article for the TODAY Parenting Team about sending my kids back to school during a pandemic. Here we go again, a year later, when I’m starting to feel like not much has changed.

At the beginning of summer, things started looking up. People were getting vaccinated. The weather was nice. I started seeing vaccinated friends and family more. I started to allow my kids to be around vaccinated extended family members and adults without masks. I let them go to camp. I even flew on a plane with my kids and let them eat outside at a few restaurants.

And then came news of the Delta variant, kids getting sick, and grandparents going back into hospitals. It makes me feel nervous and frustrated and has caused me to start reconsidering it all, just in time for school to start.

I live in Atlanta, Georgia, and that means school starts in the beginning of August, not after Labor Day like my Northeast friends. I realize that people will be looking to Georgia and Florida as the test case scenarios when it comes to kids going back to school, and that’s scary, especially considering some of the policies and guidelines that have come out throughout the states.

I truly do not understand why some schools are not requiring masks or teachers to be vaccinated. It should not be a political issue. It should be a health issue, a science issue, a keeping our kids safe above all else issue. What is the harm in wearing a mask? My 8-year-old and 5-year-old have literally never given me a problem about wearing a mask, and although they’re great kids, they give me problems about a lot.

Has there been a survey taken of children under 12 asking them their feelings about wearing masks in school? Maybe I missed that one. Feel free to come interview my kids about it, and they will tell you it’s not a big deal. I’ve never once heard them say they can’t breathe or they’re being “suffocated.” The adults who use that as their argument for why kids shouldn’t wear masks have no clue what they’re talking about. Masks are not a big ask, and more importantly, they work.

Living in Georgia, which has such a low vaccination rate, and having many family members and friends in Florida, and seeing the uprise in cases and hospitalizations, has been scary. Why are people not following CDC guidelines anymore?

Last year, I was extremely fortunate to have my kids attend two of the best private schools in Atlanta, The Epstein School and The Schenck School, which did follow CDC guidelines. The Schenck School is a special school for kids with dyslexia, which my older daughter attended to help with that as well as her ADHD.

Last year, both schools did an incredible job with their Covid protocols, including mask-wearing and social distancing. The Epstein School is now also requiring that all teachers be vaccinated. Other schools should take notes from these schools and consult them about their policies because they know what works. There is no excuse for going into this next school year without masks or with masks being optional for kids. It just makes no sense to me.

My number 1 priority is keeping my kids safe. My number 2 priority is keeping my kids in school, not at a computer in my house while I’m trying to work. There is nothing better than having them around their friends, learning, in a classroom. It is invaluable and extremely important for their social and emotional wellbeing.

I am fortunate that my kids will be at a school this year that values safety and well-being above all else. I hope other schools will do the same. All that matters is keeping our kids safe and healthy. People need to remember that.


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