'My child is not a guinea pig': Will you send your kids back to school this year?
"Streptococcus pneumonia is no joke, so ventilation is something I would prefer to not even consider right now."
What is the right thing to do? (Getty Images)
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A quick search of local parent groups on social media will reveal that South African parents are struggling. 

The Covid-19 lockdown has many families working from home, or entirely out of work, while caring for young kids and/or trying to add home schooling to their daily chores, while still paying school fees.

So it would seem that schools re-opening will come as much needed relief to them, and also to the children who are missing out on all the experiences that a school or daycare has to offer.

However, the reason for the lockdown still lurks, and there is a very real danger of infection if kids return to school before the pandemic is over. 

One parent recently said that her child is "not a guinea pig", saying that she wouldn't allow her son to return to school until it was completely safe to do so, and that she felt the government was "experimenting" on children by sending them back to school too soon.

Another wrote to tell us that sending her child to school would be signing her own death certificate, as she has several comorbidities that put her in the high risk category. 

Then, as yet another worried mom pointed out to us, there are concerns about the new Kawasaki-like disease that is striking kids who have coronavirus antibodies, as an Italian Lancet study has shown. 

Parent24 chatted to these two local parents who shared their thoughts on this in more detail. 

It is not possible to carry on like this

"I would definitely be keen to send my daughter (11) back to school. Mostly because it is not possible to carry on like this," says Lauren, a working mom of two. "I can't keep homeschooling."

She told Parent24 she is waiting to hear what the school is going to be implementing, adding that because it is a small private school with only 4 small classes, it is definitely more of an option than if her daughter was going to a bigger school.

"If my child was going back to a large government school, I would be more hesitant. They will have to be strict about who they let in," she says.

"If anyone has a runny nose, cough or Covid-19 symptoms, they should not come to school. The question is what they do if someone does get Covid-19. Do you close whole school down for a few days to decontaminate, then everyone has to work from home again?"

She asks if it is worse sending kids to school, on and off and being exposed, or just keeping them at home and struggling through work and schooling.

"My exhaustion says send kids to school, but my heart says keep my kids home and safe," Lauren says.

A tad paranoid and overly cautious

Single mom of one, Estrelita, told Parent24 that she will not be sending her son (7) to school if they open before the pandemic is under control.

"Even though the home schooling is taking a serious toll, I think he is ok on that front, he is learning. He is in Grade 2, and I am quite satisfied with what has been put forward in his Google classroom in terms of worksheets and guidance," she said.

"I am also fortunate enough to also have a sister and my son’s godmother who are both teachers. They are overseas but have been an enormous support and resource for me during this time." 

"Luca has compromised lungs as a result of two serious bouts of H1N1 (swine flu) when he was younger," Estrelita reveals. 

"It is a recognised complication, that takes years to rectify. So he is very susceptible to chest infections – anything sinus or throat-related usually goes to his chest." 

Luca was hospitalised in both Grades R and 1 with bouts of pneumonia.

"Streptococcus pneumonia is no joke, so ventilation is something I would prefer to not even consider right now," she says.

"So, to say I am a tad paranoid and overly cautious would be fair. Should he contract Covid-19 and need to be in hospital, will I be allowed to be with him? Not an option for me, put me all the PPE you want, I will not leave him."

"Winter is not even here properly, and to send kids back, during peak flu season, with a global pandemic lurking does not make sense to me, Estrelita says. 

When asked what would make her feel that sending her child to school is safe for him, she said "At this point, I would be paranoid about him going back to school either way, but also life must go on."

"Hygiene safety practices will have to be reinforced, he will have to go back to school with a mask and visor. I am not sure how the school will reassure any parent that social distancing will be a practical thing."

"Nothing will make me feel really safe right now, but I get that we must move on. I am loathe to make any calls right now."

The best interests of the child

What is the right thing to do?

While time will tell, the best answer we have right now is to act in the best interests of the child.

"As a holder or co-holder of parental rights and responsibilities you can do anything in respect of a child if it is in the child's best interest," Shando Theron, a local family law attorney, told us.

This is the yardstick in terms of Section 7 of the Children's Act and section 28(2) of the Constitution, he said, adding that parents must keep in mind that keeping a child out of school for prolonged periods without just cause is in itself unlawful in terms of the SA Schools Act.

So, he said, unless the child has co-morbidities that put them at clear greater risk if they contracted the virus, parents who keep their kids home could fall foul of the law. 

How are you approaching this? Will you be sending your kids back to school as soon as possible? 

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