I have read several plans now for schools reopening in June and they make for grim reading. So much so that the prospect of my first-born starting school in September fills me with anxiety and dread. This is not how I imagined starting school to be. What I imagined included shopping for school uniform, getting my child’s feet measured for school shoes, purchasing the school book bag, eagerly awaiting the invitation to take my child to visit school and meet their teacher. All the while feeling a mixture of emotions – excitement, anticipation, apprehension and sadness. Excitement at the prospect of what this developmental milestone will bring, and sadness at the loss of my ‘baby’ to school, knowing that once our lives begin to follow the pattern of an academic school year, life really can start to feel like it flies by.
All these dreams however feel shattered in this new world of social distancing that we find ourselves living in. How on earth is life to continue with any semblance of enjoyment and normality when there are such strict protocols governing our every move, all of which seem to serve as merely giving us a flavour of life as we once knew it, conjuring up a feeling of freedom at being able to venture outdoors albeit two metres from one another, but at the same time leaving us feeling sad and depressed by the fact we can’t behave as we once used to.
I try and remain positive. My initial response to the planned ‘bubble’ for children in school was along the lines of ‘it will be ok, my child won’t know any different, a small group may be good for learning,’ and ‘so long as my child can interact normally in this group then its fine, at least they’ll experience some normality at a time when they can no longer play with children in the park or see their grandparents.’ However what has been presented in the plans I’ve seen is far from normal and I cannot help but think will do more harm than good to everyone required to adhere to them, from the staff in school to the parents, and most of all to the children.
My immediate response is to say no. No, I am not subjecting my child to this. The risks to my child’s mental health are just not worth it. Then I wonder how on earth are we as a society meant to move forward from the impact of coronavirus. It feels like government advice has taken a drastic U turn. Literally up until the moment of lockdown, the message I, as many others were getting, was to wash hands regularly for twenty seconds, cough into your elbow and live normally. I was aware of people isolating with coronavirus symptoms or if they felt particularly vulnerable, and this made absolute sense to me. The guidance is one that I and others around me, continued to follow. Then overnight, the message was very different, and our world changed for what now feels like forever.
How do we move forward under this new regime? I’m aware of my own personal resistance to subjecting any of my children to it. To try and find ways to shield and protect them from the harm that will come from subjecting them to a school environment that resembles that of a prison with an admittance from schools of a change in role from educating to containing, but then I question how on earth will society function if we don’t all follow suit and send our children back to school and return to work. The government can only continue schemes such as furloughing for so long surely. Or is there an endless supply of money available to us to remain at home forever that I just don’t know about? If there is, is that what we really want? To survive in confinement, socially distancing from others until it is ‘safe’ to live again? What will the cost to our mental health be if we opt for this, and will our ‘survival’ outweigh such cost?
I am aware of various responses from people to what is happening. People critical of the governments new message to ‘stay alert,’ reeling with anger at the mere sight of people outside of their homes and heaven forbid if they see someone in a car. Such people seen out and about are ‘stupid, ignorant, selfish, because their actions are causing people to die.’ Frontline health workers posting pictures of themselves on social media in their PPE (personal protective equipment), telling us all to stay at home because we don’t appreciate the crisis they’re facing and how difficult their job is right now, and to reiterate, anyone even considering flouting the rules in any way is selfish and ignorant because their actions could kill someone. There are people referencing times of war, assuring us that what we are experiencing is really not that bad in comparison, and we just need to get over feeling sorry for ourselves.
I wonder however whether the longer social distancing continues, the more diluted such messages will become. I say that because I think such messages are fuelled by a person’s own perspective. Of course, a nurse caring for patients with the most extreme effects of coronavirus is likely to convey a worst-case scenario message that reflects what they are seeing. Likewise, it makes sense to me why a healthy twenty something is more likely to lose sight of the high risk elderly residents in care homes they are supposed to be protecting, when their desire to venture out of their solitary confinement and meet up with their equally healthy twenty something love interest gets the better of them, because the situation in care homes is likely to be so far removed from their sense of reality.
Everybody is impacted by what we are being asked to do to ‘protect lives.’ It evokes a level of anxiety in all of us. However, how we are impacted is likely to vary and it is this variation that impacts people’s responses; how much they resist and how much they comply. I question whether the instruction to social distance and its impact is even a like for like comparison to living through war. I’m not convinced it is, and even if it was, I’m not sure this helps with the quandary of whether to send my child to school or not, or even if we determine that yes they are the same, whether this justifies subjecting children to an experience that will do more harm than good to their mental health. Because people before us have suffered does that mean we should all accept present and future suffering as our duty because people before us had to in order to provide us with the liberties and freedom we have rightly or wrongly adopted as normal?
My sense is people will start to view the here and now as exactly that, without comparison to what has gone before, and the impact of social distancing on life in the present will begin to rightly or wrongly, outweigh any sense of duty to what people before us have endured. Similarly, the direct impact on us as an individual, on our immediate family, for the vast majority, will start to outweigh any sense of personal sacrifice to protect the lives of others. People may start to move away from the continuous reporting of deaths ‘linked’ to coronavirus as a way of informing their judgement of what can be regarded as safe, choosing instead to focus on the statistics we were told to pay attention to when the outbreak first began – that for the vast majority of us, we needn’t worry as the risk of us becoming seriously unwell with coronavirus is minimal, most us breezing infection with barely a sniffle, with children deemed asymptomatic and little evidence to show they transmit the virus to others.
In my view, social distancing now acts as the blocker to any of us resuming life as we once knew it. We could argue that the message of ‘stay at home, save lives’ has now merged into ‘stay at home, end lives,’ for I fear that government proposals such as the ones for schools to return under social distancing guidelines will merely serve to deter parents from sending their children to school, and then what? At what point do we permit people to live life as normal and assess their own risk to themselves and others? Is the middle ground between living a life in lockdown and living normally, living a life with enforced social distancing? Schools have set out plans to show a middle ground and they look detrimental to mental wellbeing and unlikely to encourage any parents to send their children back to school. So where does that leave us? If coronavirus is to be with us for the foreseeable with no guarantee of a vaccine, then when do we begin to live again rather than simply exist.
Links and further reading:
Below from a UK school
We have been busily working in school to get a sense of what the new normal will look like for our pupils when they start back on 1st June 2020. I want to be as open as possible so I have attached some photographs of what we have started to do in school. You will see photos of ‘play bubbles’ where children will have their own space, and classrooms where all small toys, books and soft furnishings have been removed.
Our lovely little village school is going to feel very different. We thrive as a community because we love and care for each other. We will do our utmost to show children this care in different ways that do not involve close contact.
HOW OUR SCHOOL WILL OPERATE:
- Children will be with one teacher in one group and not necessarily with the same groups of children they were with in March. They may not be with the teacher or in the classroom they had in March.
- They will have to remain in that classroom for the duration of the day. They cannot mix with the groups of children in the other classrooms (Bubbles).
- They will have set times for the toilet which will need to be cleaned by the teacher/bubble staff after they have been used. Only two children will be allowed to use the toilet at a time; toilet times will be supervised. They will not be allowed to leave the classroom outside of their allocated toilet times.
- In classrooms (bubbles), they will sit at desks, where the children will be 1m apart, all facing the same direction. This includes the children in Reception and Nursery.
- Their classrooms (bubbles) will have all unnecessary furniture, equipment and all soft furnishings removed.
- The classroom (bubble) will be cleaned throughout the day. The bins will be emptied and desks will be cleaned and sprayed throughout the day. The classroom (bubble) will be deep cleaned at the end of every day too.
- The children will work at their desks. They will not sit on the carpet.
- Children must wear clean clothes every day. They do not need to wear uniform. They must have a clean coat every day too.
- They will not be able to bring anything from home except a filled water bottle. No reading books, no packed lunch boxes, no pencil cases.
- They will be provided with a see-through pencil case and equipment that will only be used and touched by them. These will be cleaned at the end of the day by the teacher/bubble staff.
- When any other equipment is used it will then need to be cleaned before other children use or touch it.
- Outside playing equipment like the climbing frame and outdoor gym will not be able to be used as it is recommended these are cleaned afterwards but we would not have that facility or staff to do that at this stage. Children will have an allocated play space for their bubble – they must remain within this space during outdoor playtimes.
- They will have some lessons that involve a lot of independent learning as the teacher will not be able to go side by side or sit next to them to give them targeted support. The teacher needs to keep social distance when teaching (the amount of distance keeps varying – to the public it is 2m but it has not been confirmed yet if this is the case for schools so we are operating on the same basis as the general public)
- Only one parent is allowed to drop off their child, this will be at an allocated time and place on the school field. These will be allocated per bubble and children will assemble in their bubbles, adhering to social distance requirements prior to being collected by their teacher/bubble staff.
- Parents are NOT allowed to enter the school building or have the daily contact or conversation they need or are used to having with staff. Contact will continue to be electronic via email/telephone.
- Lunch arrangements will be confirmed however no hot meal will be provided for children in Reception and Year 1; packed lunches will be provided by school. Should home packed lunches be preferable, these will be entirely disposable – no lunch boxes within school at all.
- If they fall over or have a toileting accident they will be encouraged to change themselves and clean their scrape or cut. We have sourced PPE (following the COVID 19 guidance for Educational Settings) which is for use only for staff protection should a child vomit, not for trips, falls or scrapes. If it is not possible for the child to clean themselves in the event of an accident, the parent will be called to collect them so they can do that at home.
- Corridors are split and marked off to save children having to walk past people without a social distance, where possible.
Other factors to be aware of, should the rest of school (years 2 to 4) be asked to return to school in June:
- Year 4 will not be able to have a leavers assembly or party
- There will be no visits out of school
- There will be no sports day
- No assemblies
- No adult visitors into school
As the situation develops, we will continue to risk assess accordingly and keep you as informed as possible.
We never thought as a staff we would be in this position or making such drastic changes to our lovely little school, however we are doing all we can to adhere to the guidance and keep our staff and children as safe as possible.