There is only one more week to go before children all over are returning to school for the fall. Amidst the pandemic, parents everywhere are stressed out about the decision to return their children to school or not. There is so much to consider, and the authorities don't seem to be providing helpful support for parents and teachers alike. The BC Ministry of Education produced ad featuring Dr. Bonnie Henry received a lot of criticism for being unrealistic, setting the tone for distrust and creating even more questions for parents on what Back to School is going to look like.
I read a Letter to the Editor in The Province today where the mother indicated she has been home-schooling her child since before the pandemic, that it was a breeze for her during the pandemic and that the Ministry is using fear mongering tactics to fill their school district tax funding by mandating children return to school. Whether or not those allegations regarding the Ministry's motivations are true, I think the narrative significantly simplifies the issue for so many families.
Do you send your child back to school this year? That answer, I think, is going to be different for every family.
Is Home School the Best Option?
The author of the Letter to the Editor certainly seems to think so. But is home schooling really the best option for your family?
As Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a press conference, for some children "being at school is where they get their healthcare; it’s a safe place for them; it’s a place where they can get psychological support; where they may get a meal..." If your child is still young, academics is perhaps not as important for them as interpersonal skills. If your family is experiencing any issues with intimate partner violence, custody disputes, etc., school becomes an incredibly important resource for your children to access other safe adults such as teachers and councilors. Or even more basic, it enables them to socialize and interact with other children to provide a sense of normalcy in their lives.
Additional things you should think about is whether or not you have the skills and knowledge to navigate the school curriculum. When you choose to home school your children, you undertake the role of the educator in their lives. So whatever you decide, you should be somewhat certain the education you're providing them will set them up for relative success in the future.
Can You Realistically Manage Home Schooling/Distance Learning?
I know for a lot of families, working from home is not possible due to the nature of their work. In those situations, families have traditionally relied on other family members (like grandparents), daycare, or school to look after their children during work hours. The argument can be made that school is not a day care - they are there to educate. I would tend to agree. Regardless of the role of the school, it meant children weren't at home alone while the parents went off to work.
So, if you can't work from home, home schooling is likely not going to be an option for you, regardless of how much safer or better home schooling might be.
Even if you could work from home:
Can you juggle home schooling tasks while not falling behind on work?
Do you have the technology necessary to effectively home school your children? If you only have one computer at home, do you need it for work and for distance learning?
Make no mistake that home schooling and distance learning is a change for a lot of families. With change comes challenges navigating that change. Certainly the last school term gave us a soft start, but I bet a lot of us had expected that to be a short-term thing. Businesses are still struggling to deal with the prospect of long-term working from home. So it's no surprise that parents are also struggling with the fallout of these changes.
How Scary is COVID Really?
Not to down play the virulence of the COVID-19 virus, but at the end of the day, Canada as a country has managed the spread of COVID with a high degree of efficiency. Here in British Columbia, there are a total of 204 confirmed deaths (as of August 31,2020). By comparison, tobacco use causes up to 6,000 deaths in the province each year.
I get it. There is a conscious choice for smokers, whereas the risk of COVID transmission seems nebulous. So the comparison isn't apples to apples, and I understand that anything unknown is scary. That said, given the high number of annual tobacco related deaths, no one is afraid of sending their children outside.
So, we must view the risk of COVID objectively.
What is your child's age group and how susceptible is that age group to the infection?
Does your child have any underlying health conditions that would make them more susceptible to the infection?
What is your family's health history?
How successful have you been in teaching your children basic COVID hygiene such as handwashing?
At this point in time, there is no COVID vaccine. It's yet uncertain whether you can be re-infected with COVID even after you develop anti-bodies (although evidence points to no). However, if COVID is like many other infectious diseases, you need to get it to be immune to it. Take some solace in knowing that in Canada the COVID recovery rate is relatively high. BC for example has the highest COVID-19 recovery rate in Canada.
By no means am I advocating to be cavalier about an infectious disease. I think there is still a long journey ahead of us learning to live with this virus, and we all need to do our part in following health directives. That being said, it is unlikely the provincial health authorities will advocate for return to school if they didn't feel there's at least some degree of safety.
In IT, there is a phrase we use during our security audits called "Risk Accepted". This is a declaration made by the client after we have presented the risk finding, and explained the appropriate mitigation strategy (if there is one). In some cases, the client does not wish to proceed with the mitigation work, and simply acknowledges the risk present in their IT environment by making a declaration of "Risk Accepted".
Faced with unknowns, we're conditioned to have heightened awareness. These survival responses from our ancestors are meant to help us avoid being eaten by predators. But over the long-term, this survival response instead causes mental health problems like stress and anxiety. In a world filled with #MotivationMondays and positivity, it's easy to feel guilty about our negative emotions. But research shows that acceptance has been linked with greater psychological health.
Acceptance helps keep individuals from reacting to—and thus exacerbating—their negative mental experiences.
Acceptance is a very important step in your emotional wellbeing during these extremely stressful times. When we're faced with competing priorities and potential judgements from external sources, it's OK to admit that we don't have all the answers. When you make a conscious acceptance of your decision, you can confidently handle the criticisms by knowing you have weighed the risks and benefits, and you've made a decision that works best for your family and your children.
A "Risk Accepted" approach may be the best we can hope for in the short-term in deciding whether or not our children should return to school.