Should I keep my kids home from school after Thanksgiving?

I love our kids’ school. Since the day they started as infants four years ago, we’ve loved the teachers, administrative staff, and the curriculum that has grown along with them. Even during COVID, they’ve done a good job, better than what I’ve seen elsewhere, of keeping everyone there safe and cared for. So it’s hard to say it, but we’re considering keeping our kids home from school at least for a little while after Thanksgiving.

The problem isn’t the school, or any of the staff, or anything they have or haven’t done to prepare. It’s the other parents. While most of them are great and generally seem to try to follow the rules, we simply cannot trust all of them. I know that at least some of the parents are going to be taking their kids traveling to see family for Thanksgiving, and the resulting petri dish of germs they’ll be bringing back terrifies me. There’s always a spike in colds in their school classes this time of year, but this year is a lot different than some sniffles

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and already over 2 million people have flown around the country. An estimated 50 million will travel this week. Not only will many of them be sharing food and germs with family, but will inevitably share air on planes, in rest stops and fast food stops on drives, and while out shopping. Even if just a few of them bring their kids back to school right away, cases of COVID are going to explode. Even worse, in many places around the country, the number of cases in children and the number of children in hospitals as a result are already spiking to record highs.

And to make it worse, we know it’s going to happen. We already overheard one set of parents talking about driving out of state to see family for Thanksgiving. What really set me off though was overhearing another discussing their plans to travel with a large family group to Mexico for a vacation. I fully understand the urge to get away right now, especially after months of tedium with kids. There’s no one who is more affected by not being able to travel right now than us with our insane wanderlust, but this simply isn’t the time. And I actually don’t even blame them for traveling, if they could at least take precautions. Quarantines before and after could make a highly risky trip slightly more mitigatable and decrease the potential blast radius. But I know they’ll plan to send their kids right back into school with ours next Monday.

As I already noted, it kills me that we won’t have a big family Thanksgiving this year, but it would be so much worse to have the guilt of spreading COVID to a loved family member or getting it ourselves. Making the sacrifice isn’t easy, but it’s obvious so that we can get through this pandemic and finally get back to some semblance of normal. The continued resistance to make these kinds of sacrifices is exactly why we’re still in this situation and why it continues to get even worse. If I can’t count on people to correctly wear a mask when picking their kids up, I can’t count on them to take precautions on behalf of others over the holiday.

I think others are realizing the same thing as well. Schools are already shut down after Thanksgiving. Public schools in NY shut down due to increased cases, but it had to have also been related to the spike they would have expected to see after Thanksgiving. A large number of universities are also sending students home for Thanksgiving break and not bringing them back after, switching to fully virtual classes after. Our daycare is also considering extending the Christmas time shutdown to reduce the risk of people coming back from family visits, though not Thanksgiving. There’s also a policy that all kids must quarantine for two weeks after any travel, though I don’t see how they could actually enforce that, nor do I expect all parents are actually following it.

Like so much of the sacrifice made around the pandemic, this is another case of the rule followers suffering because of the rule breakers, and that sucks. Parents like us who actually follow quarantine guidelines and make sacrifices to stay home will likely end up paying due to the choices others make to not make any sacrifice. Those who do still travel and see extended family groups outside of their bubbles will come back and force the rule followers to either sacrifice further by staying home, or potentially expose their children. I have no clue how we made it through months of both working while the boys were home throughout the day, but I can’t imagine us doing it again, even for two weeks. Yet, we have to at least strongly consider it again because of the pandemic.

Having the boys at school is an absolute necessity for us. When we’re working, we hardly see each other, let alone have time to keep two toddlers and an infant occupied. Zoom sessions still require a parent to supervise and keep them focused. Meals have to be made, and there’s only so much TV I’m willing to let them watch. Realistically, only one of us can really work at a time when they are home. When school opened back up in July, it was a lifesaver for us and we immediately saw improvements in everyone’s happiness and quality of life. It is an absolute last resort to have them home again, but with the risk right now from Thanksgiving and the multitudes of people not taking the pandemic seriously, we don’t have much of a choice.

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