school

'My son returned to school this week. Within 4 days, we were in isolation again.'

Over the last week, parents across New South Wales and Victoria have let out a collective sigh of relief. 

After four months of juggling work, homeschooling and snack fueling, we reclaimed our freedom: kids started back at school.

It was the day we were all desperately counting down for. 

Watch: The things you never say in 2021. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

School gates were draped with streamers and balloons, music and bubbles were floating through the air. 

Our beautiful teachers gathered (safely) out the front as they welcomed kids in with smiling eyes above their masks.

It felt like the first day of kindergarten again, except this was packed with even more emotion. My eyes welled up - with relief, with exhaustion and with joy at seeing my son and all his friends together again. 

Image: Supplied.

My friends and I looked at one another after drop-off in disbelief. We had made it. We had emerged from lockdown and life was finally, FINALLY, starting to return to normal. 

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But our celebrations were premature.

On Friday, our sigh of relief was cut short.

An email came through from my son’s school with the heading that I knew was coming. Just not so soon. Not in week one. 

The school was 'NON OPERATIONAL - EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY'.

An equally urgent body of the email directed us to pick up our kids right away. A case of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the school. The school would be closed to allow time for contract tracing and cleaning.

I rushed down to the school gates to collect my son - the same gates that were adorned with balloons and streamers only four days earlier. 

The children were lined up waiting. The teachers, as always, had everything calmly under control. Students were instructed to get tested and to self-isolate until further notice from NSW Health.

My son’s results came back that night: NEGATIVE. The breath I had been holding tightly in my chest released, briefly. We weren’t out of the woods yet. We still had to wait to hear from NSW Health.

Twenty-four hours later, we got an email from the school:

"Your child has been identified as a close contact of the confirmed case."

"Students aged 12 and over, who can and have been vaccinated, must isolate for a week if they are exposed to the virus. Children who can’t be vaccinated must isolate for two weeks. Unless the child can be isolated from the family, all family members must also isolate for the same duration as the child, regardless of each family members' vaccination status."

Wait. What?

My son is six. He can’t be vaccinated. Nor can he isolate away from our family.

We all needed to isolate for 14 days. Along with 65 other families in my son’s cohort.

The rug had just been ripped right out from under us. We had JUST gone back. We had JUST celebrated 'Freedom Day'. Things were meant to be going back to normal.

This isn’t normal. This isn’t even lockdown. This is worse. WAY worse. 

Better days. In lockdown. When we could still leave the house. Image: Supplied.

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I knew the requirements for self-isolation during lockdown - all family members needed to isolate if someone was a close contact. But naively, I thought this would have changed. We have reached the 80 per cent vaccination rate. We are 'living with the virus'. 

Instead, we are now confined to our house for 14 days with two young children. This is not living, this is a pressure cooker!

Why didn’t someone warn us about this? Did someone warn us about this? I don’t know. They might have but I’m not retaining much these days. If someone did tell us, would we have sent our son to school, anyway? Probably. 

Like many parents, we were so utterly exhausted and desperate for a break, the promise of our kids going back to school was the very thin thread that our sanity was hanging on by. 

Now, that thread is well and truly exposed again and our impending isolation feels like a blade pressed against it.

Working from home with a preschooler. Going well. Image: Supplied.

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A flurry of WhatsApp messages and phone calls flew between parents from school over the weekend. It was the same sentiment over and over:

This is not sustainable.

With the remaining grades returning to school in NSW this week, this situation is only going to get exponentially worse. There will be more outbreaks and more 14 day isolations served, many back to back. Some families are now heading into their third week due to an outbreak at their other child’s daycare only two weeks prior. 

The world has opened up, but not for families with children too young to be vaccinated. The risk - of illness and of isolation - is now greater than ever. 

We have asked the government countless times throughout this pandemic - where was the foresight?

Where did you use your position of advantage in being able to learn from other countries who have gone through this before us? Where are the rapid tests and why are they only being trialled now? Is this really the plan for families of young school children? Moving in and out of isolation, homeschool and work for the foreseeable future?

Back to the work / homeschool juggle. Image: Supplied.

As we did with the vaccines, we have no choice but to wait. For the restrictions to ease. For the rapid tests to arrive. For a better plan. 

And as we do, all we can do is be kind. To ourselves, to one another, and especially to our teachers who, once again, are holding it all together for us.

To our wonderful teachers: thank you. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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