Students in England are heading back to school after summer holidays – my three children return on Thursday. But any parent who thinks life will be “back to normal” when school resumes is mistaken.

There will be more calls to pick up your child in the middle of the school day and consequences if your child has a runny nose. It means you’ll have to stay home from work because your child won’t be able to attend school.

We received a lengthy list of instructions from our school that included staggered start times, requests to take our children’s temperatures every morning, and a notice there would be no assemblies or visits to the school library. At the moment, masks won’t be required.

Difficult days before school return

I’ve found the last few days before they return to school among the most difficult since my children were sent home in March. I’m waiting for something to go wrong or the government to change its mind.

My children are driving me crazier than usual and I know that’s because I’m in a heightened state of anxiety because this school year is different. I’m afraid it won’t actually happen, that we’ll once again have to duck and weave, make room for our children in our homes and lives during the day and yes, even school them again. When new guidelines were released by the Department of Education last Friday I had a pit in my stomach, fearing yet another change of course.

Instead, the government doubled down due to a decrease in infection. “The prevalence of coronavirus has decreased, our NHS Test and Trace system is up and running and we are clear about the measures that need to be in place to create safer environments within schools.”

But again, that’s just for now. There’s the whole second wave thing to be worried about. There’s still so much about coronavirus we don’t know.

What must it be like for the children?

Image by Back to school 2020 in the US

In many parts of the world, in-person school won’t start at all. In parts of the US, the second week of remote school finished last week. According to one parent I know in Beverly Hills, it went a lot better than expected. Attendance is taken in the morning and, instead of changing classes, children as young as year four (third grade) log-in to their classes, staying online for the full school day.

Yet, it’s still disruptive for families – an adult must be home, not at work. And remember, that’s Beverly Hills, a wealthy neighbourhood. It’s a lot to expect of families who are less comfortable financially and it’s impossible for vulnerable children living in unstable housing who rely on schools for food.

In New York City, it was announced there would be no in-person school until at least 21 September. At that point, parents who opted for hybrid learning could have their children at school part-time and the remainder would be remote. A group of 185 families from the Roosevelt Island neighbourhood, where I moved here from, have started an online group to support each other. They are attempting to do what the government is unable to, educate their children. In other places, affluent parents are forming pods of students and hiring teachers to teach them.

That all scares me too, not because there’s a lot of pushback from parents or teachers here, like I see in the US, more because the US will primarily offer remote school – and the US doing it makes it seem a viable option.

Image by Queven from Pixabay

Back to school 2020 in Denmark

When it comes to reopening schools it seems Denmark is the best example. According to the Guardian, Denmark’s R number rose in the two weeks after primary students returned but quickly recovered.

Hopefully local schools remain in the sweet spot – and that hope is the most stressful part as opening day nears. There are many things we’ve hoped for in the past six months, including our six-week trip home to New York, none of which worked out, so hope feels dangerous right now. The Department of Education explained: “Every school will also need to plan for the possibility of a local lock-down and how they will ensure continuity of education.”

It’s nice to know the government is planning for that possibility but so much can go wrong. I took my children to lunch today to discuss school and see if there was anything they’re worried about. Turns out they’re just happy to go back!

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