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Virtual school is challenging, and I know my kids will get a better education once they’re back in real school, but my wife and I still prefer to keep them at home until we’re sure it’s safe to send them back. I’m worried that they’ll cancel virtual school when more students go back in person. Can they do that? Should I be preparing to send my kids back in person before I’m ready?

Laying Low in Louisiana

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Meghan Stroh

Meghan Stroh is an award-winning high school science teacher, instructional coach, and school leader. When she’s not navigating for New Orleans families, she can be found getting crafty and sewing handmade quilts.

Dear Laying Low,


This is a tough question, and I can understand why you’re anxious about it. The truth is, there are still a lot of unknowns about the school reopening process. In some places, schools are now reverting back to virtual school or hybrid options because of high case numbers, or due to clusters of cases within their school communities. Meanwhile, other places are planning for bringing more students back in person. It’s just hard to predict what will happen!


In part, this depends on the kind of school your children attend. I’ve seen more instances of private schools putting pressure on families to bring their students back, whereas many public schools are still operating in hybrid or virtual modes. And of course, it’s even harder to predict what will happen by the start of next school year. By then, we hope vaccines will be widely available, at least to adults, which will make it generally safer for schools to open in person and increase pressure for families to come back.


Regardless, though, at some point all students will be asked to return to school buildings, and it’s possible that will happen before you feel ready. Since this might be outside your control, it’s a good idea to be prepared and have a plan in place for how to feel as comfortable and safe as possible when your children do go back. Here are a few suggestions that I hope will help:


Make a list of questions to ask your school about safety procedures. For example, what’s the current plan for identifying students with symptoms, isolating them, and notifying families? Will I be notified of a potential exposure anywhere in the school, or only in my child’s class? Who is required to wear masks, and when? How will meals and snacks be handled? If and when students will remove their masks, what other measures will be in place to keep students distanced? Will classroom windows be open, and if not, how has the school addressed ventilation issues?


Figure out your family’s personal pros and cons to returning to school, and figure out what factors you can control to feel more comfortable. In your case, it sounds like a return to school may have academic and social benefits for your children, but you’re concerned about the safety costs. Are there other ways you can limit your exposure risks so that you’re comfortable taking the added risk of school? For example, coaching your children to be consistent with mask use, even if their friends are not; limiting your “pod” to only your immediate household; avoiding non-essential errands; and cutting any other outside-of-school in-person activities.


Plan ahead for various scenarios. Think through what you’ll do if your child has an exposure or possible exposure in school, or is required to quarantine. Can you or another caretaker stay home with them? Is it possible to isolate them from other family members, especially those who might be high-risk?


Stay in touch with school. There’s a lot of information (and some misinformation) flying around, and it can be hard to keep up. It might be helpful to figure out one person at school that you can keep in regular contact with—whether that is a family liaison, the principal or an assistant principal, or your child’s teacher—so you’ll feel well-informed, even if you disagree with some of the decisions school is making.


Unfortunately, I think it’s likely that some families are going to be asked to send their children back to school before they feel quite ready, just as some families will be asked to continue with remote schooling when it isn’t working well for them. Neither is ideal, and families (and educators) are making sacrifices all around. Once teachers and students are able to be vaccinated in large numbers, whenever that is, I’m hopeful that we will be looking at a much safer situation for everyone. In the meantime, hang in there, and let me know if we can be supportive in other ways.

“Since this might be outside your control, it’s a good idea to be prepared and have a plan in place for how to feel as comfortable and safe as possible when your children do go back.”

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