Will it be safe to send your kids back to school? And what happens if you don't?

Is it safe to send kids back to school before the pandemic is over?
Is it safe to send kids back to school before the pandemic is over?

Since the Covid-19 outbreak in the country and the subsequent national lockdown, South African families continue to face new challenges.

For many moms and dads, this means the instinct to keep their children and loved ones safe has kicked up a notch, and parents are doing everything possible to fulfill their duties.

Of course, looking out for children's well-being and acting in their best interests is not just a priority: it’s a legal duty, says Advocate Kaiél Grobler of LAW FOR ALL.

And in these strange and uncertain times, it can be particularly challenging to pinpoint what exactly the right thing to do is - especially when it comes to remaining healthy and going back to school.

While staying up to date with the latest Covid-19 developments and lockdown restrictions updates is very important, it’s equally crucial to shut out all the fear and sensationalist 'noise'.

When deciding whether or not send your kids back to school, it's important to rely on credible sources, and use that information for guidance to find constructive and collaborative solutions, he says.

So, first, what would it take to make schools safe?

According to Professor Claudia Gray, a local Paediatrician and Subspecialist Allergologist, children generally handle the novel coronavirus much better than adults, and a child’s chance of dying from other viruses such as chickenpox or influenza or by car accident are in fact higher that that from Covid-19.

In a recently released report she adds that "transmission from child to adult and probably from child to child seems uncommon from current literature".

Also read: Back to school: What parents and pupils need to know

Professor Gray explains that nonetheless, when schools do re-open vulnerable employees, learners or vulnerable families should be identified and 'shielded', or in other words allowed to continue learning from home, and being supported in such.  

All returning students should wear washable, reusable cloth face masks, or, if tolerated, shields, and all students and employees should be well versed in good hand hygiene procedures. Regular surface disinfection should occur throughout the day and schools should consider applying specific long-lasting antiviral surface protection sprays. 

Additionally, staff and students should be screened each morning and the school must allow for adequate physical distancing with desks and chairs placed 2m apart. 

Is it safe to send kids back to school before the pandemic is over?

"As a paediatrician and mother-of-4, I would say YES," Professor Gray told Parent24.

The benefits of school generally outweigh the risks, she told us, and children are not Covid-superspreaders, and are more likely to catch the SARS CoV2 virus from adults at home than from friends at school.

"Ring-fencing and shielding vulnerable children, families and educators will be part of the preparation. Astute and thorough preparation of schools to have Covid-19 prevention strategies in place as best they can is essential," she said. 

While many parents agree and can't wait for school to open for all grades, on the other hand, others are saying that it's too risky to return to school soon, and that exposing their kids to infection isn't worth the benefits. 

A quick look over parenting groups on social media reveal that many families are moving to homeschooling for the rest of the year, while others say they won't allow the government to 'experiment' with their children by speeding up the reopening of schools.

Parent24 conducted a poll recently, which revealed that 34% of respondents said it was too risky to send their kids back to school, and 28% said they would wait until they heard from government.

Just 38% of respondents said they would send their kids to school in June. 

Will it be safe to send your kids back to school?

An impossible choice

With South Africa's under resourced education system taking strain already, it is unlikely that the majority of schools will be able to implement these basic steps successfully, and this leaves many families - students and staff - with little choice other than to to stay away.

But, as Advocate Grobler pointed out, the law is also clear: children between 7 and 15 years old must attend school, and under normal circumstances preventing them from attending could result in fines or jail time for parents.

Schools across the country certainly have their work cut out for them, as they will have to take every precautionary measure possible to ensure classrooms, venues and grounds are safe environments for kids.

"Should a parent feel as though the school’s precautionary measures are insufficient, they can decide to keep them at home, but they will have to ensure the children are enrolled for home schooling and have all the necessary tools to continue their education," Grobler told Parent24

A contractual responsibility 

There is, of course, another layer of concern for many parents: finances.

Many are feeling the pinch and can’t afford school fees. But parents have to remember that they have contractual responsibility to keep in mind, and a school can take legal action if they breach that contract - such as failing to pay school fees. 

Parents who are struggling should contact the school and find out if they qualify for school fees exemption or if there are any other arrangements the school may consider, Grobler said.

That said, it’s always advisable to not just stop paying school fees; try and be as transparent and honest with the school as possible.

Remember, this is also about the child’s best interests, he stressed. 

Will you be sending your kids back to school this year? Let us know. 

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