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School is back in full swing across Massachusetts, and it’s as close to normal as it has been in two years without hybrid or remote learning alternatives.
Though few would argue that children shouldn’t be in school, the question of if and when they should return to the classroom has been a contentious one throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first year of the pandemic, the spread of the virus made it unsafe for students and their educators to be confined to the classroom, but as vaccination rates for adults improved and cases of the virus declined, it seemed a return to school was on the horizon.
In March 2021, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration ordered all schools to start a hybrid model for grades K-8. Then, in May, classes resumed in person with just a month left in the school year. Now that the new school year has started, we asked parents what it felt like to send their children off to the classroom this year.
After more than a year of the pandemic forcing disruptions in children’s academics and social-emotional growth, most parents polled said they were ready to have their children back at school. Still, the divide was a narrow one: 52% of 70 respondents said they had no concerns about school reopening, while 48% said they still had some reservations.
“The value of in-person learning outweighs concerns over COVID at this moment,” said one reader. “But this can absolutely change if delta ravages our community.”
While there is a statewide mask mandate for schools, other COVID-19 precautions will be left to individual districts to decide. Baker and student education leaders have emphasized a localized approach even as Baker’s administration requires all schools to be fully reopened.
“While I’m thrilled to have kids back in the building, I’m frustrated the state did not make all mitigation strategies accessible for the beginning of the year,” said Nicklyn Dolphin who has a child attending Sharon Public Schools. “The state vacillated between deferring to local districts to taking charge late in the game. Last year, our districts had implemented pool testing seamlessly. We went with the state program this year and as a result, schools are open but asymptomatic testing has not started. [The Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education] can make excuses left and right, but this should have been prioritized, and work on the program should have begun in June.”
Many school-aged children are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, although Pfizer recently said their vaccine is effective in children ages 5 to 11 and that it plans to seek U.S. authorization for this age group soon. In the meantime, masks will be required at all times. For families in Boston Public Schools and other school districts that have agreed to comply, there will also be regular virus testing.
“I am not pleased with sending my kid to school without vaccination,” said Sushma P., whose child attends school in the Westford School District. “I wish the officials waited until kids 5 to 11 got the vaccinations approved.”
Given how difficult it has been to determine the best path forward for reopening schools, it’s unsurprising that parents sending their children back to school have mixed feelings about reentry. Several of the parents who responded to the survey shared their thoughts on their children going back to school. Ahead, you’ll find a sampling of their responses.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
“While I am slightly nervous my oldest started kindergarten in-person this fall, I know she needs the social interaction with her peers after a year of staying in small circles and being home a lot. There’s no way to remove all risks from your kid’s life and these are vital years for a child’s development. The school has been great explaining the precautions they’re taking, the staff and students all wear masks and practice social distancing. I will feel more relief when the vaccines become approved for younger kids and we can provide her with additional protection against COVID. We’re doing what we can to keep her safe and she’s having the time of her life meeting new friends and learning new things at her “big kids school.” — Anonymous, kid(s) grade K-8
“The kids returned back to school full time in our town last spring. Kids have to wear masks indoors (except lunchtime) but not outdoors, and there weren’t any outbreaks in the spring or through the first two weeks of school. The kids have no problem wearing masks during school or after school activities and sports.” — Anonymous, kid(s) grade K-8
“No hesitation sending them back. They need to be in school. They are just as safe as they ever were.” — Anonymous, kid(s) grade K-8
“Kids have fallen so far behind in the past 18 months. They have been suffering in silence and it is wonderful to have them challenged and in school this fall.” — Anonymous, kid(s) grade K-8
“Kids are not showing any [severe] illness or hospitalizations. All teachers and staff should be [vaccinated] by now. There is no reason to fear putting your kids in school.” — Anonymous, kid(s) grade K-8
“A fresh surge of infections from school socialization is inevitable. Some kids will be hospitalized, others will need to quarantine. The fact that remote learning isn’t an option is absurd and dangerous.” — John, Cambridge, kid(s) grade K-8
“It is a special kind of hell having to choose between keeping your child’s physical and mental health, but not being able to choose both.” — Jessica vonGoeler, Arlington, kid(s) grade K-8
“To have remote options taken away from families when the youngest learners do not even have the option to be vaccinated is irresponsible. A lot of the policies to reopen schools were established in June before the delta variant surged in the U.S. Around the country workplaces are delaying returns and mask mandates are coming back, yet in schools, where hundreds of unvaccinated kids are gathering, the protocol are relaxing and it’s very concerning. No one will argue in-person learning is ideal, but we should not be rushing and acting like things are back to normal when our kid’s health is on the line.” — Anonymous, kid(s) grades pre-K and K-8 grade
“When Baker and DESE sell how ‘well’ schools did last year, they conveniently leave out the two most important factors schools had in place: remote and hybrid options, which allowed for districts to keep the distancing recommendations and kept numbers down. This year we have a more contagious virus, we know more about the devastating effect long COVID can have on children and we forced everyone onto the building with less options.” — Anonymous, kid(s) grade K-8
“My child brought COVID home from school. At the time [we were living] in Colorado when it was still being denied that the virus had even arrived in the states. He and I were both very ill for over two months. I was rather shocked to find out the limited availability for online school spots and had no choice but to send my son to in-person learning. I will be getting him vaccinated as soon as I am able to. Each day when I pick him up I see firsthand the lack of social distancing, kids with their masks over their mouths and not their noses, etc. The school does its best I suppose, but I would have much preferred waiting until the kids could be vaccinated before returning to in-person learning.” — D. Zuben Brayton, Elementary of North Adams, kid(s) grade K-8
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.
Given the ongoing concerns about young children returning to school, we want to know how parents feel about the recent news about Pfizer seeking approval to have their vaccine given to children ages 5 to 11. Once the vaccine is approved for this age group, would you feel safer knowing your children are vaccinated against the virus? Would widespread vaccination for children ages 5 to 11 change how you feel about your child attending in-person school? Let us know what you think by filling out the survey below or e-mailing us [email protected] and we may feature your responses in a future article.
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