Earlier this summer, we were weighing the options about the upcoming school year and were struggling to make a decision about what we felt would be best for our kids, their teachers, and our community at large. Like most parents, we felt like we were having the choose as best we could from a collection of terrible options, where nothing felt like the actual right thing to do.
Then, in mid-July, the Coronavirus invaded our home and ultimately infected every single person in our family.
After we had finally recovered, completed our isolation and quarantine, and my husband had been released from the hospital, the question about school still loomed over our heads. What now? Did having COVID-19 change the way we thought about school?
Ultimately, after getting antibody tests that confirmed that all three of our children were positive for antibodies (which meant they had, in fact, had COVID-19 and were recovered), we decided that our elementary age kiddos would go back to school face-to-face five days a week and our middle school child would opt for the hybrid model selected by our district, where he is at school in person twice a week and participates virtually the other three days. Knowing that our kids were COVID recovered and would pose as minimal of a threat as possible to their classmates and teachers really became the tipping point in making that school decision about sending them back into their buildings for instruction.
What we never anticipated was that one of our kids would soon experience something brand new and unique — COVID Bullying.
Our fifth grader would arrive home from school and you could tell by his body language that he was sad, frustrated and hurt, but for the first couple weeks of school he really didn’t want to talk about what was causing it. Eventually, as we were able to get more details out of him about how school was going so far, he finally opened up.
“The kids tell me I shouldn’t be allowed in school,” he said. “They say I’m ‘infected’ and then tell the other kids to stay far far away from me and not talk to me or they’ll get COVID. I try to explain that I don’t actually have COVID, but that since I did have it this summer, I have the fighter cells to make it go away, but they don’t listen.”
Basically, my kid is being ostracized for having “COVID Cooties.”
One of the biggest arguments for getting back to face-to-face school, even in the face of COVID-19, was to nurture the social education of our kids, but somewhere along the line, we also forgot that we also need to educate our kids about COVID-19.
- Do they understand what a virus is and how it works? Have parents/guardians had age-appropriate conversations with their kids about how the virus spreads and why it’s so important to try to slow that spread?
- Consider the language being used about wearing masks at school. Are kids being told at home that they need to wear a mask at school “because the district says so” or “to protect you from sick kids” or are they being empowered to wear the mask as a way of contributing to the health and well-being not just of their classmates, but of their school and community as a whole? Do they understand that the mask is about protecting others from the potential spread of the virus from an asymptomatic child?
- There is a LOT of uncertainty out there about what happens after someone has recovered from COVID-19, simply because it hasn’t been around long enough to understand the long term effects, how long immunity lasts, etc. But we do know this — antibodies are the body’s way of defending against the virus invading and taking over again and the COVID-recovered person with antibodies is statistically a drastically lower risk to others than someone who has not had the virus. To treat someone who is COVID recovered like a pariah is cruel. Kids are going to talk about what happens to them and they need to know that if a classmate talks about having recovered from COVID or having COVID antibodies, it does NOT mean that they are “infected” or that they are somehow a higher threat that every other kid in their class. Talking about antibodies and defining them would be a great step in the right direction here!
The bottom line is that kids will soak up what the adults around them the most are saying and doing. I know this is all very very scary. I think about it a lot when I feel like my heart is going to beat out of my chest and I wonder if it’s because I’m out of shape or because of COVID damage. I struggle with “survivor’s guilt” because all five of us emerged from our COVID battle alive, when nearly 200,000 other Americans were not as fortunate. This is heavy, heavy stuff for us to carry. But we have to remember that our kids are carrying it too and they will emulate the way we navigate this treacherous landscape.
On behalf of my COVID-recovered kids, I humbly ask my fellow grown-ups to proceed with empathy and compassion and center your conversations around science, data, facts and hope. No kid should be treated like an outcast or bullied simply because they have recovered from a virus. We are better than that.