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Returning to School is (Not) as easy as 1…2…3…

There is no doubt that 2020 will be a year to remember…or forget. At this moment in August I’m quite sure that it’s still March. I guess we’ve been able to avoid all the “2020 vision” jokes for the year, but I’m confident the “hindsight is 2020” ones are coming. After 5 months of enduring this pandemic, with no end in sight, it’s clear that we cannot go back to “normal” any time soon. If you’re like me, you hoped that by July we’d have this all behind us and we’d be moving into the back half of the year with time to salvage the year. Instead, we’re going to have to learn to live WITH the virus and be creative and cautious as we work to figure out how to move forward.

In late February and early March as this whole ordeal began to unfold, I personally became overwhelmed knowing that we could not mitigate this virus without significant impacts to mental health and the economy. Just this week, the Centers for Diseases Control (CDC) released a report identifying that we undoubtedly dealing with a crisis within a crisis ( As this invisible enemy rages on, this dilemma is ever more present as it feels there are no good choices when the consequences seem so dire. This is where the return to school finds itself.

Let me first start by saying that I have not interviewed every school district, or any district for that matter. I have however observed school board meetings and spoken to many parents and students within several of Oakland County’s and Macomb County’s schools. I do not envy the leaders and decision makers. Having to make decision for Lillybrook is challenging as it is, I cannot imagine having the responsibility of thousands of families. On that, I thank all superintendents, administrators, and task forces as well as anyone else involved in trying to make the “right” decision for our children.

As a parent this feels like an impossible decision, one that even challenges my belief system. As someone who prefers to be independent and make my own decisions with little involvement from others, especially those in authority, it almost feels “better” to have someone else making decisions for me. However, I do not like that either. As a professional, I have always tried to guide the families I’m working with towards strategies that are logical, practical, and as simple as possible. I’ve been attempting to use this theory as a practice in making decisions for my own children’s return to school.

The system I use is based on prioritizing concerns in relationship to the severity of the potential consequences if the concerns were unaddressed. To accomplish this, I have created a list of priorities based on severity of need. They are as follows:

1. Safety

2. Health

3. How they get along with others

4. Academics

5. Work/Chores

6. Anything else

When teaching this to families, the general rule of thumb to follow is wherever you identify an issue, anything below it is put on hold. For example, using the current crisis we can say that there are safety and health issues related to COVID-19 that must be addressed. Therefore, any issues related to how they get along with others, academics, work/chores, and everything else will be dealt with once the health and safety issues are resolved.

This, more times than not, is so simplistic that it makes decision making seem too easy. But as I’ve been saying since March the pandemic makes everything harder. Under current circumstances we are dealing with two crises, as confirmed by the CDC noted in the article above. That means when looking at our list of priorities we have a health and safety issue related to contracting COVID-19 and we have a health and safety issue related to mental health. Neither allows for us to prioritize a child’s academic needs. This feels like a no-win situation and we haven’t even gotten to the dilemma concerning how a parent is supposed to work when their children are at home, which inevitably will create a 3rd health and safety crisis. This stress has been placed on the families and on the leaders trying to make the best decision possible for the communities that they serve.

I will be honest with you. I do not have an answer on how to resolve this, so I won’t tell you how. To that point, neither do our leaders. Whether they are political, spiritual/religious, business, or academic/administrative. We are in the infancy stage of this virus, our needs are very individualized, and we are living in a very hostile political climate. There are many other variables that complicate this matter so much more.

Since March, we have existed in a constant state of hyperarousal. The negative effects on our physical and mental health are becoming more evident as the data is obtained. As you begin to “return” to old activities in the Fall, it is likely for stress levels to increase and with that increases in anxiety and depression are expected. This is true of your children too. Whether they are receiving their education at home or at school they are experiencing similar challenges to their physical and mental health. Remember, they are resilient and so are you, but also remember it never hurts to ask for help. Talk to your friends, family, primary doctors, and your therapists. If you don’t have one, find one. As we move into the 6th month of this pandemic, and we approach a new season marked with just as much uncertainty as we had in March, I just ask that you don’t endure this alone.

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