Torn between sending my child back to the classroom and keeping her safe at home, I had to make a decision…
My daughter was part of the matric contingent that received clearance to go back to her sanitised, PPE-equipped and Covid-19 safety-approved independent school on Monday 1 June.
After months of indecision and dates changes, the DBE agreed to allow matric learners at independent schools to return to school last week, as it was too late for many schools (some of which had already accepted boarders back to their hostels) to remain closed for another week.
My daughter has been coping surprisingly well over the last two and a half months at home – and not just because we have the luxury of uncapped wi-fi and a computer in our house.
She used the time away from the classroom to work on ideas and research for her matric art practical exam piece, to catch up on notes and summaries that she had fallen behind on, created a menu for her consumer studies prac, practised for her final drama monologue, and generally proved to her parents that she had a mature work ethic, could work independently… and is ready for university.
Her dad is a maths teacher (and her class teacher too), and she patiently recorded hours of maths lessons, where he taught from notes pinned to the walls of our lounge, and she uploaded them to a private YouTube channel for the class to watch.
But the down side of having to study and work in isolation meant that she missed out on an important aspect of holisitc education: socialising with peers in class and at break times
She also missed her April matric dance, 18th birthday party, and the 24-hour soccer marathon she was planning for July has been put on hold too.
On Monday last week, she woke and dressed in her uniform for the first time since 17 March: slightly anxious about returning to a school environment that in most ways would be familiar, but in others completely different. In a new Covid-19 world where hugging her friends is strictly forbidden, and everyone would have to remember to practise social distancing all day, in class, in the tuck shop queue and even in the bathroom.
She’s not really scared of contracting the virus: we’ve had countless discussions about the probability of the symptoms being really mild and relatively harmless in people under the age of 19
As a mom who has also read (but not shared) about (admittedly rare) cases where younger children had systemic inflammatory responses and experienced a ‘cytokine storm’ that could result in severe complications – and even death – I was a lot more anxious about sending my child back to school as part of the guinea pig group, where we have no idea if schools are going to prove to be environments that the virus infiltrates – and where it spreads.
But as parents, we need to teach our children to be brave, to protect themselves as much as possible, to practise responsible behaviour, not take risks, and then just pray over them… and hope for the best.
And as parents too, we often have to hide our fear from our children – to keep it together so they don’t panic.
Fast forward to the end of the first week…
Now, after a week back at school, both our daughter and her parents feel relatively secure and reassured by the health and safety measures in place at her school.
If schools are able to implement these safety measures (with equipment provided by the government) and have committed educators to guide children and enforce the rules, then schools reopening should not be a contributing factor to the spread of the disease.
Public transport is another issue, and will be an important area that will require focus and concerted efforts, and the ability to prevent the spread of the virus on taxis and school buses will only be measureable in the coming weeks, but schools can play their part by maintaining strict safety protocols to protect children once they arrive at school.
This is the health and safety protocol at my daughter’s school (and hopefully will be the procedure at your children’s schools too):
- Children who arrive at school have their temperatures taken by masked staff members, using a device that makes no contact with their foreheads.
- Each learner completes a form, declaring that they are experiencing none of the typical symptoms, and have not been in contact with a diagnosed Covid-19 patient.
- Shoes, hands and school bags are then sprayed with sanitiser
- Safe social distancing indicators (stickers) are placed on floors and benches all over the school and masks have to be worn throughout the day.
- Desks, chairs and tables have to be sprayed and wiped down by each learner when they change classes.
- Perspex dividers separate long tables accommodating rows of learners.
- No extramural activities (sports or cultural) or PE lessons are allowed to take place.
Admittedly, it’s going to be much more difficult to implement these safety measures among younger children, so teachers are going to have their work cut out for them when the foundation phase children return to school. As with the virus itself, who knows what the future holds – and how it’s all going to play out in the weeks and months before we klap this virus… or find a vaccine?
Now that our precious children are leaving the safety of their homes, we all need to do everything in our power to keep them safe at school – and parents have a role to play in keeping the channels of communication open between ourselves, our children, and their teachers.