In 2020, co-parents have faced a variety of unexpected challenges as a result of COVID-19. From losing jobs, to working from home, to dealing with school closures, the past few months have been characterized by hardship after hardship for many Americans.
The 2020/2021 school year stands to pose yet another challenge for families, particularly co-parents in child custody arrangements. Today, we're exploring what experts are saying about schools reopening in the fall, and how you can protect your child during the 2020/2021 school year.
What's the Plan for Texas?
Since our team here at Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyer is based in Texas, we figured we'd start by giving a quick summary of how the Texas state government plans to handle reopening schools.
At the beginning of the school year, schools will use online learning. However, around early to mid-September, most schools will reopen and start transitioning back into physical attendance for students with an option for their kids to remain online learning for the fall semester.
Governor Greg Abbot has stated that there will be "great latitude and flexibility provided at the local level" for schools to decide how and when to reopen. In other words, you should keep an eye on your school district's website and watch for updates about the reopening. It may also be worth attending one or more school board meetings in your district to get an idea of how professionals in your area want to handle the reopening.
Why Are People Arguing Over Reopening?
Educational and medical professionals alike are split on whether reopening is the best move for schools across the US.
Proponents of reopening point out that children are less likely to contract COVID-19. In fact, they're 56% less likely to catch the coronavirus after coming into contact with an infected individual than adults are, greatly reducing the risk children could transmit COVID to each other (or teachers could give it to students).
Additionally, data from seven countries shows that only one in three million children have died since the beginning of the pandemic. That mirrors data from the CDC, showing that children under 17 only account for 2% of confirmed COVID-19 infections across the US.
People who want to reopen argue that parents can't effectively balance work/working from home (or trying to find a job—over 40 million Americans have become unemployed due to COVID-19) with being a de facto teacher's aide for their children. These individuals argue that having children go back to school could help re-stimulate the economy, which is at its lowest point in almost a century. Additionally, reopening advocates argue that children suffer when they can't attend school due to a lack of social interaction with peers.
Wanting schools to reopen isn't a fringe opinion. Many scientists, like John Hopkins University epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo, agree that the risk of reopening schools is relatively low.
But not low enough to justify it, argue critics of the push to reopen.
Firstly, just because children are unlikely to transfer or catch COVID-19, doesn't mean they'll be universally safe. Children with autoimmune deficiencies or other medical conditions would still be high-risk, and critics argue that reopening schools needlessly increases risk for those students. Why potentially risk lives?
Additionally, teachers are worried about the impact of reopening on staff members. The average US teacher is 42.4 years old, and 18.8% are older than 55—making them a relatively high-risk demographic. While COVID-19 may not pose a big risk to kids, it's a potential death sentence for teachers and staff members—especially older or compromised individuals. Asking elderly teachers or staff members to stay home isn't exactly a great option either, since US schools are already regularly understaffed.
It's not just teachers and staff who are at risk, either. Kids could also transfer COVID to their parents or adult friends and family.
Given the number of adults who could potentially be infected if schools reopen—teachers, staff members, parents, family members, just to name a few—critics argue that reopening could realistically set off a tidal wave of new COVID infections.
Finally, many critics point towards the lack of resources suffered by many US schools. Already underfunded schools won't be able to afford adequate protection to minimize the risk of students, teachers, and staff catching COVID-19, which could be a disaster for schools in urban environments that house thousands of students and hundreds of teachers and staff members.
Now that we've covered the discussion surrounding the 2020/2021 school year, let's talk about what you can do to prepare.
Think About the Pros and Cons of Reopening in Your School District
The setup of your school district will play a huge role in how risky reopening school might be for your family. Some factors you want to consider are:
- The size of the school. The bigger the school, the greater the chances of someone getting COVID-19.
- Where you live. Keep track of how many COVID-19 cases there are in your area. If you live in a virus epicenter, reopening school will be riskier.
- How well your school is able to handle the challenges the pandemic presents. Does your school have the funds to protect students and teachers from COVID? What precautions are school administrators taking? Again, attending a school board meeting may help you figure out these details.
Assessing your specific school district can help you decide whether reopening is dangerous or not.
Discuss What Precautions You'll Need to Take if Schools Reopen
By the time the school year starts, you should have a gameplan for how you'll handle it if the school does reopen. Things you want to think about include:
- How safe is your child? If your child has an autoimmune disease or other condition that makes them a high-risk demographic, think about how to keep them safe (for example, investigate if they can continue learning online once school reopens).
- Does your child have any other caregivers? Once school reopens, you should eliminate contact your child has with other high-risk individuals in their life (like grandparents).
- What will you do if your child (and you) get sick? Are you prepared to take off work or halt your job search if you get COVID-19? What will it look like for your family? Having a plan in place can help you reduce the impact on your family if your child does contract the coronavirus.
- What are the professionals saying? At all times, you should be keeping tabs on resources like medical universities, the CDC, etc. and see what they're saying about the virus. For example, you probably want to follow the CDC's recommended guidelines for childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce the risk of someone in your family contract the virus. Keeping up with what medical and educational professionals are saying is a great way to reduce risk for your family.
At Coker, Robb & Cannon, we're here to help you navigate family law disputes—like how to talk through sending your kid back to school with a co-parent.
To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (940) 293-2313.