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Staying Home Sick Never Felt So Healthy

Much of the discussion, debate and anxiety about returning students to in-person classes for the new school year have centered on the ability of the children to wear masks and maintain social distancing on school buses. There should be as much concern about the ability of parents to make the right choices.

I wasn’t shocked at the news that an Indiana student tested positive last week for COVID-19 on the first day of school last as I was that the parents knew the child had symptoms yet sent them to school, anyway. In fact, the child had already been tested for COVID-19 and was awaiting the results. The local health department had to remind the community that sick children, especially those who might have the new novel coronavirus, should stay home.

For the past decades if not centuries, parents sending their children to school with various sniffles, coughs and other ailments is as common as the youngsters fighting and kicking every step all the way to the school bus stop. Before I cast too many stones, I must plead guilty to sending my own daughter to preschool with a runny or congested nose or a stubborn sounding cough. And from the appearance of other 4 and 5 year olds I see on the playground, other parents don’t have any qualms about doing so, either.

Many parents come by it naturally, as we learned from our own moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas how to deal with various childhood maladies. Rub a little dirt on it, as the adage goes. Still, what kid didn’t try to preheat a thermometer on a light bulb to elicit a false reading, in the hope of skipping school?

If you, dear child, aren’t throwing up, running a fever or hacking up a lung, you can go to school. My mom took it a step farther, proclaiming on more than one occasion that unless I was planning on dying, I was to be ready to walk out the door in 20 minutes.

A few germs never killed anyone. They make you stronger. That might have been true yesterday, but today not so much.

Amid the worst pandemic planet Earth has seen in over 100 years, are there really parents who are telling their kids to grin and bear it? They could be the same ones screaming at or accosting other shoppers for the audacity of requesting they wear their face mask inside the store. It sure didn’t take long for the fears of countless school bus drivers, teachers and other school staff to come to life.

All that said, I neither know the age of the Indiana student in question (though it’s been reported they are in junior high) nor the family dynamics nor their economics. Perhaps the child’s parents felt they couldn’t take a day off from work and had no other childcare options. My wife and I both work full time but have a lot of flexibility in our schedule. We can easily stay home with our daughter should she fall ill. We recognize how lucky we are.

This entire COVID-19 experience has taught us to be more cautious the next time our now-kindergartner becomes sick. (Her first day of in-person class at a private school was on Monday because the public school she was supposed to go to starts the school year later this month with full online learning.) We’ve been lucky to this point that she has only truly been sick a handful of times, and with the next go-round, hopefully just a common cold, we will surely keep her home.

Meanwhile, K-12 student transporters and educators are living a new reality, one that leaves them longing for good old-fashioned spit wads, gum left under seats, and mopping up the occasional spill of bodily fluids. And with that realization come solutions that are already in use, such as student tracking to provide contact tracing, in case a student or driver is diagnosed with COVID-19.

As the Indiana school district learned last week, having technology at one’s fingertips to help make sense out of the most confusing challenges of our time can end up proving to be a not only wise but timely investment.

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