Back-To-School: Masking our Reality

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Back-to-school this fall has been a doozy for sure. We all waited anxiously in July for schools to reveal their plans. One at a time, school districts in my area announced that they would start virtually. My heart sank for so many families. Finally, our little private school announced that it would meet in person. I was so relieved. Like many families, we found virtual school to be very stressful. With a certain amount of survivor’s guilt, I began the process of buying back-to-school supplies, which this year included a camping chair, waterproof pants, rain boots, and other gear for spending much of the day outdoors. And, of course, masks.

The first week went really well. My fifth grader had to wear a mask all day, but my 3rd and 1st graders only had to wear their masks during certain transitions. However, just one week into school, a new mandate was passed requiring all children ages five and up to wear masks at all times – even outside on the playground. This was the first time since the pandemic hit that I could really relate to what others have described as feeling like “their freedoms were being taken away.” However, when I asked my children about how it was going wearing masks, they were pretty “meh” about the whole thing. My third grader forgets it is on. I know that there are parents who are very emotional about their children wearing masks at school. I’m not one of them. I think all private school leaders are focused on keeping their schools open this year, and trusting them is taking weight off of my already taxed mental load.

For the most part, the return to school has been downright idyllic. Our school already put a lot of value around being outside a lot of the school day. They threw up a few tents, created outdoor zones so that grades did not mix, and planned to be outside as much as possible. My first grader has a yoga mat where she sits for outdoor reading time after lunch. My third grader made hash over an open fire as part of a learning unit. My fifth grader learned to split logs with an axe. Today is the first rainy day of the school year, and they are all outfitted with boots and raincoats to continue outdoor learning. Inside, they are in large, well-ventilated classrooms where desks are spaced apart. It is set up to work.

I’ve watched as parents have shifted to homeschool, formed learning pods, hired tutors, and transformed spaces for their kids to learn virtually. I’ve watched as churches, gyms, and community centers have become online learning centers. Working parents are all figuring out how to budget for unexpected child care expenses. Stay-at-home parents are trying to find community and support for their families. Private schools have had their own scramble as they figure out how to replace staff who do not feel safe teaching during the pandemic and readapt the facility and procedures to make school a safer place for children and staff. A friend of mine from a different private school has one of her children home this week due to a COVID exposure. Every choice has it’s messy parts. I think we are all feeling the emotional strain, numbness, and anxiety that is part of this uncertain time.

So we are all in this together, right? Well, let’s be honest. We are all in this – but not really together. I am very aware that my children are at a wonderful school today, while many parents are in serious chaos. It isn’t fair. I think it is more helpful to state that our sufferings are not equal or, in some cases, even similar right now. It is a stressful time, and we have not all been given the same set of circumstances or resources. Staying positive is important but being honest is also important.

I look forward to the day when all of our kids are back in school and mask free.

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