My daughter is a rising kindergartener, and after an abrupt end to her PreK year and two months in quarantine, I’m anxious for her to go to school in the fall. I want her to have as normal an experience as possible as she begins her elementary career—ideally in person with a smiling teacher and a roomful of kids her age. But the reality is, it’s not up to me. As much as I might like to say, “She’s ready!” I don’t get to decide when she gets to return to school. And neither do you.

Some decisions are ours to make … but not this one

There are plenty of parenting decisions that we do get to make and that no one else gets a say in. We decide how to feed our babies—whether that’s breast milk or formula or a combination. We decide if our kids sleep in their own rooms or in a family bed. And, we get to choose whether or not and in which religion to raise them. But our autonomy in parental decision-making ends at the point at which those decisions have the ability to affect the health and well-being of other people’s children.

Everyone has different standards

I would like to be able to take other parents’ word for it that they’ve been practicing social distancing and that they’ll keep their kids home from school if they show signs of illness. But all it takes is a trip to the grocery store to tell you that people have wildly different interpretations of what constitutes safe behavior during a pandemic. And as careful as I’ve been, I must admit to bending the rules for my own kid. (You try and keep a 5-year-old away from the neighbor’s beagle puppy.)

Let’s listen to the experts

In this world of COVID-19, I’m relying on people who know more than me. I seek out the expertise of medical professionals for best practices during a pandemic. I look to national and international health and disease prevention organizations to provide guidelines on what a safe return to school should look like. And I depend on the school district to make a call that is in the best interest of all students—not just mine.

This is bigger than our own kids

As parents, our outlook is naturally narrow-minded. We’re laser-focused on our own kids. And while we are the experts on our own children, this is about more than them. School districts have so many considerations as they contemplate their students’ return to school. They must balance the need for equity in education and providing a place for students who rely on school for safety, structure, and regular meals, with protecting the health of vulnerable student populations.

This is a huge decision and one that we as parents don’t get to control. That’s not to say we can’t advocate for our children, but we do have to look at the bigger picture here. So, as much as I would love to put a backpack on my little girl come August, for now, I’m staying out of it.

What are your thoughts on a possible return to school? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, What Will Post-Pandemic School Really Look Like?

It's a Hard Reality, But Parents and Teachers Don't Get To Decide When Kids Return to School