I wept actual tears of joy last week when all four of us went to our little park.
I’m the mother of two very lively small boys, in the eleventh week of being stuck in our domestic prison. My husband, suffering from the aftermath of suspected Covid-19, has often felt too unwell to go out. We are thankful for the days that he does feel up to it.
I’m trying to keep down a demanding job, look after two holy terrors, my husband, and not go mad in the process. We have all shouted at each other more than we should, but I feel some solace in the knowledge that we are not the only ones.
All parents are exhausted. They have had enough – enough of juggling work, home schooling, and 24-7 childcare with no help. Enough of reduced incomes, ill health and coping with their little darlings’ fights and shouting competitions. We’re walking a tightrope getting thinner and longer by the day.
But ever since Boris’ bumbling announcement of the schools reopening, my anxiety has sky-rocketed. We all want our children and teachers to go back.The question is not whether kids should go back. The question is when will it be safe?
“I respect the right of every parent and teacher to make their own decision. But for me, there is no dilemma.”
I have relatives working in the NHS. I am relieved every time their shifts for that week are over. Our family has suffered a bereavement. One relative had to go onto a ventilator and tragically passed away. He leaves behind a young widow and two teenage boys.
I respect the right of every parent and teacher to make their own decision. But for me, there is no dilemma: 1 June is too soon to send them back to school.
We started working at home and keeping the kids home before schools’ closure was even mentioned in a press conference. Home schooling has been no picnic: our patience is tested every minute of the day as we simultaneously entertain a jealous toddler while teaching a reluctant four-year-old. I have spent more time on phonics and negotiating shifts with my husband than I ever wanted to. I feel completely ready to hand them over. But I do not think it is safe. So on I will go, for as long as I need to.
The safety of children, staff and their families is every parent and teacher’s overriding concern. I do not envy any headteacher having to weigh up the risks of the virus’ infection, transmission and its consequences against other risks, particularly mental health risks and safeguarding concerns.
We are all influenced by our own personal situations, and none of us is completely impartial. But I have also analysed the evidence. First, the reopening of schools in countries like Denmark (which I note the government heavily relies on, and which many have cited with blind optimism) does not reassure me: Denmark has one of the lowest death rates in Europe, while ours is the highest. Secondly, early evidence suggested children might not be as infectious but more recent studies suggest the exact opposite. Moreover, the professional body for doctors supports the unions in saying this step is premature, saying until we have got the case numbers much lower we should not consider reopening schools and that we must not risk people mixing with each other without the ability to rigidly adhere to social distancing. Even the government’s own guidelines concede that very young children are unable to effectively socially distance.
“My biggest fear is that sending children back on 1 June could contribute to a second spike”
Finally, the SAGE advice on reopening schools, finally published last week, indicated that the evidence remains inconclusive on both the susceptibility and infectivity of children, while the Independent Sage committee said the risk to children would be halved if the restart date was delayed by even just two weeks.
How do we send our children, and our teachers, back into classrooms with this knowledge? My eldest has told me he is scared of going back while the ‘bug’ is out there, and I agree with him.
My biggest fear is that sending children back on 1 June could contribute to a second spike. Knowing the government’s mistakes with care homes, I see this as a disaster waiting to happen. How many teachers and family members could die this summer if they go back? Will Gavin Williamson suddenly be telling us that he put a ‘protective ring’ around schools too? How many dead teachers is he prepared to eulogise this August?
We all want our children to go back to school. The question is not if but when: when will it be safe? For me, the answer is clear: not yet. We were too slow into lockdown. We must not risk weeks of sacrifice by being in too much of a rush to come out of it and risk a second spike and thousands of deaths.
This time we need to get the timing right.
Clare Steel is a parent, writing under a pseudonym
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