Going back to School: What Decision to Make?

Going back to School: What Decision to Make?

Parents of school-aged children must decide whether to send their children back to school. Here are a few considerations to help them make their choice.

April 29, 2020 | Sending their children back to school or continuing with homeschooling is a dilemma facing many parents right now. But how does one decide? What are the elements to consider?

For some, there is no choice. They have to go back to work because they are part of an essential service (healthcare or education) or they are employed by a business that has started a gradual return to normal activities. “I am a second-grade teacher, says Marjolaine Therrien, who is also the mother of two children aged 5 and 7. I am looking forward to see my pupils again, but I am also a bit stressed. I have no idea how things are going to go at my school and at my children’s school. What measures will be implemented? Will social distancing rules be applied?”

This uncertainty, which creates a degree of anxiety, is one of the elements that make this decision hard for parents. “One of the first elements of this decision is the relative knowledge we have about the evolution of the pandemic, says Dr. Cécile Rousseau, child psychiatrist. We are proceeding by trial and error right now, because we do not know precisely how the virus will react. We are all looking for certainties, and it is frustrating for everyone. We are forced to take the least bad decision.”

Protecting Everyone’s Health

Cécile Rousseau reminds us that children are not very affected by COVID-19. “Worldwide, cases where a child has died are extremely rare. Moreover, children do not appear to be good vectors for the disease.” In other words, the virus does not travel well on children and the risk of transmission is reduced, although it is not inexistent. We must bear in mind that zero transmission does not exist.

Obviously, the risk for one’s health increases if a child or their parent have pre-existing medical conditions. That should actually be the top criteria when taking that decision, according to Geneviève Bérubé, a remedial teacher. “Protecting the health of each family member is the most important thing. Then you take into account the reality of each family: there are no right or wrong decisions. Everyone, adult or child, is different!”

Accounting for the Child’s Opinion

Geneviève Bérubé encourages parents to trust in themselves and to make a decision “they are comfortable with” . . . while also making sure their child is on the same page. “It is important to involve the child in this decision-making process, she says. If the child is super motivated or extremely social, parents must take that into account. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if their child is very anxious or worried, they must also take that into account.”

What if the child is determined to go back but their parent is unsure? “I think the parent must make an effort to control their anxiety,” says child psychiatrist Cécile Rousseau. What about a situation where going back to school is necessary, but the child is terrorized? “Listen to your child, try to understand what scares them, reassure them and be indulgent. Maybe you can manage to assuage their fear gradually, just like a regular back to school situation?”

Accounting for Special Needs

Stéphanie Deslauriers is a psychoeducator and she believes children with special education needs who require adapted materials or services will benefit from going back to school. “It can make a big difference for them,” she says.

She also believes that children whose parents are exhausted should also go back to school. “If you are starting to notice a certain lack of respect or a tendency towards verbal or psychological abuse that could devolve into physical violence, you must send your child back to school,” she insists. Keep this image in your mind: picture being in a plane and you are instructed to put the oxygen mask on your face before doing the same for your child. . .

Parents who are feeling helpless or not well equipped for home schooling should also consider sending their children back to school, according to Geneviève Bérubé, a remedial teacher. “It takes humility to admit this, she says. I think parents must be kind towards themselves, their children and school.”

Luc Chamberland is the father of 6-year-old twins and he has yet to decide what he will choose. He’s waiting for more detailed information on what a day at school will be like. “How is all that going to be organized in the classroom and elsewhere on the premises? How many children will be there? I am giving myself some time and even when I make a decision, it might not be set in stone. Nothing is set in stone right now! We have to remain flexible, even if that means changing your mind.”

Criteria to Consider
  • Everyone’s wellbeing (e.g., chronic disease)
  • Returning to work and the general financial situation
  • The child’s desire and willingness
  • The child’s special educational needs
  • The parent’s mental health (e.g., fatigue, exhaustion, depression) as well as the children’s mental health (sadness, depression, anxiety)
  • The ability or lack thereof for home schooling
  • One’s overall comfort level with each option


Maude Goyer—Naître et grandir

Naître et grandir


Photo: GettyImages/BraunS