Sending your child back to school in this current environment is one of the most difficult decisions for parents to make. We know how important school is for our children. The academics are essential but so are the social interactions, which are pivotal for normal mental and psychological development.
Can kids be successfully homeschooled? Without question, but to do it properly requires a degree of effort and attention to detail that many of us with our busy day-to-day lives cannot be expected to achieve, so school steps in. Next to the home, for most children, this is the most important place that they will spend time.
Having children and teachers who may have been exposed to the COVID-19-causing virus together in a room for hours at a time is a real concern. How to reconcile the risk with the benefit? First, some children will not be able to go back to school. Either because of their own health issues (taking immune modifying drugs, for example) or the health of someone that they are living with (undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, for example) these children will need to be able to do their schoolwork on-line.
There is a precedent for this in Quebec. L’École en Réseau (ÉER) is a network that enables local children to keep up with school without leaving their outlying or small communities. To take advantage of this expertise with on-line learning under the circumstances of COVID-19, the government will have to make resources and support available to teachers and the children involved including adequate Internet access and computers.
School boards and the government must set this up in advance because we know it will be needed.
What else can we do? Depending on their age and level of understanding, your children should be part of the process of going back to school and you can start now. It is understandable that kids may be terrified by what they have been hearing about this disease. They need our example to keep that potential danger in proper perspective.
Children are at less risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. That is a reassuring fact and it needs to be shared — but they are not immune. They still need to follow the proper precautions. Social distancing, hand-washing, and wearing a mask should be part of what our kids are doing on their way to and from school and once there.
Classes need to be set up to enable proper distancing. When possible, classes could be held outdoors. Ventilation of the classrooms is essential to reduce risk. Work with your teachers and your local school to see what can be done. There is very useful information as well as a checklist that you can use to help you prepare for the return to school at the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention website. Take a look and do the checklist. It will help you and your kids.
Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at McGill Medical School as well as an Attending Physician in the Emergency Department of the McGill University Health Centre. He is also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.