Nama Winston
Nama Winston

Why I’ve kept my child home from school. And you should too

It's my duty to keep my son home from school if I can, and bad luck if that makes you uncomfortable.

In a world full of increasingly conflicting advice, parents have been faced with a choice over the last few weeks; to send their kids to school, or not. As of today, Victorian schools are closed, but everywhere else in Australia, parents must decide what to do with their children.

The PM Scott Morrison doesn't want to close the schools for a few reasons; mainly, the economic impact of parents not being able to work - in particular, frontline healthcare workers, and the potential educational impact on students having prolonged time away from classrooms.

There's some other factors which don't seem to be considered as important by politicians; but which have left many parents confused and unsure of what to do.

 

What about the safety of teachers and staff? The inability to practice social distancing with hundreds of students? Teachers are feeling like 'sacrificial lambs', being put in a position where their personal safety isn't a consideration. A number of stories have emerged about their very valid, but totally overlooked, concerns.

What about the emotional impact of sending kids to school when many of them understand that social distancing is happening everywhere else, but not where they spend six hours a day, five days a week?

What about a parent's feelings of guilt in essentially sending them off in the morning with merely a "Godspeed" as protection? We're being told to social distance at school pick up - but don't worry about the kids all day?

This is why last week, I made a call about my own 12-year-old; he's been home since last Wednesday. I couldn't keep sending him to school in good conscience.

My son reported that one of his classes had five children in it, and there was a rumour/information that the canteen would stop taking cash and coins. In the weeks leading up to that, the students had been taught about the importance of hand sanitation, and school assemblies were cancelled.

From my perspective, it seemed the government was acknowledging the risks, but still putting students and schools as a last priority over 'the greater good'.

That wasn't good enough for me anymore; not when I could do something about it. I know many parents don't have a choice, and need to keep their kids in school. I don't remotely judge that, but it's also not my situation.

I work from home. My son is 12, and he's my only child; I don't need to manage things while I'm working. He has access to online learning, and his school has been very proactive in that. My son isn't in Year 11 or 12, he's in Year 7, and a couple of weeks of this before the school holidays is fine.

Schools, like this one in Melbourne's inner north, have been closed across Victoria, but it’s unclear what other states will do. Picture: AAP Image/James Ross
Schools, like this one in Melbourne's inner north, have been closed across Victoria, but it’s unclear what other states will do. Picture: AAP Image/James Ross

Inevitably, I got some 'feedback' on my decision. It made parents who were listening to government advice (at that time) uncomfortable because I was going rogue. I understand that in moments of high uncertainty, some people want their decisions validated, not threatened by difference.

But I wasn't going to shirk my duty to my son and society just to make someone else feel better about their choices.

Was it not my duty to my son to keep him safe, and comfortable as he became increasingly concerned about going to school? Was it not my duty to help minimise the risks at school for everyone, if I was in a position to do so?

Less than a week later, last weekend, the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that schools weren't closing, but that parents had a choice about attendance. But I'd already made mine.

I'd already decided that if I could alleviate the stress for teachers and staff at school, and look after my son, then it was my duty to do so.

I'm not a politician, I'm not someone in the frontline of healthcare. I'm just a single mum, doing her small bit to flatten the spiralling curve in Australia during the most unprecedented crisis my lifetime.

Nama Winston is a columnist with Rendezview.com.au

Originally published as Why I've kept my child home from school. And you should too


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