'The uncertainty is so stressful.' School is back, but for how long?

After nearly three months of home learning and lockdown in New South Wales, my 11-year-old son returned to school this week. 

The balloons and 'Welcome Back' signs were up at the school's front entrance and I felt emotional watching him walk through the gate, knowing how happy he was to get back to see his friends and teacher. 

In less than a few hours of our first official parental 'freedom day', I was aware that some of my mum friends had taken to social media, alarmed that their school had already closed

Within a few more days, dozens of schools in NSW and now Victoria have had to close and hundreds of kids are facing 14-days in isolation, creating chaos and uncertainty for many.

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Video via Mamamia.

We spoke to a number of parents about what the return to school has been like. Here's what they had to say.

'Just 90 minutes of freedom.'

Mum Christina knows exactly how uncertain school life is, as after just 90 minutes of freedom, she received an email from her school.

"After finally getting rid of both kids who were back at school, I was looking forward to my first day of freedom after 11 weeks of juggling home schooling and working from home. After just 90 minutes, I got an email from their school to say there had been an outbreak and we had to pick them up.

"We went straight from school to get a COVID test and then it was back to juggling home schooling and work. Thankfully, by 7pm that night we were informed the kids weren’t close contacts and that they could return to school the next day."

However, just one day later, Christina received another email about another outbreak.

"We got an email late on Thursday night saying there was another confirmed COVID case at school so the school was closed again yesterday and we had to isolate. 

"This was after I had coached my daughter's basketball team and gone out for dinner! So here we are again waiting to see if the kids are close contacts or not and wondering if we’ll be able to go on our planned weekend away, which isn’t looking likely!

"It was so hard for the kids too - they’d only just gotten used to being back at school before being told they had to stay at home again. One poor little kindergartener was in tears asking why she couldn’t stay at school."

'Worse than lockdown.'

Mum-of-two Hannah can relate to the uncertainty. Her entire family is currently in isolation for 14 days.

"On Monday morning, we found out that my daughter's school had to close," Hannah says.

"We found out from other parents and students walking the opposite direction from the school.

"The positive case was still unconfirmed at that stage, but by lunchtime, the school had completely closed for deep cleaning. We then waited nervously for over 24 hours to find out whether we would be considered close contacts. 

"Fortunately, we were given the all clear. But fast forward to Wednesday night, and we received the dreaded phone call from the principal, notifying us that unfortunately another case had been identified, this time in our daughter's class. She was now considered a close contact. 

"We were quite devastated. We'd been given that small taste of normal life, only to be forced into 14 days of isolation with rules far stricter than lockdown."

Image: Getty. 


'The perpetual isolation loop.'

Laura from Sydney says that the main issue for parents is living with uncertainty and a 'perpetual isolation loop'. 

"We were asked to isolate after just four days back at school," Laura says.

"We live in a highly vaccinated area of Sydney so we’ve had our class parents contacting local government members, the health minister and media outlets hoping for a speedier change to the current protocol of unvaccinated kids and their siblings needing to isolate for 14 days. It's just not sustainable.

"Parents are running on fumes after four months of lockdown and the juggle of having to work on top of it all is very hard. I actually don’t know how families will manage this when employment is in person.

"The impact on kids missing school and their friends, not to mention their actual learning, is enormous. It’s hugely frustrating and very disappointing."

'It's no way to live.'

Taryn in Melbourne says that for Victorians who have just come out of the world's longest lockdown, the situation for parents is untenable.

"My five-year-old comes out of 14 days of isolation on Monday. Our other son has just been placed into 14 days of isolation, and he isn’t out until November 11th," Taryn says.

"There is no 'freedom' for parents of young children in care while these rules are in place. We feel completely deflated.

"We are stressed trying to juggle working, testing dates, emails that have to be sent to the right people. We are constantly cancelling family catch ups that we have been missing for months. It is no way to live. 

"It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting. We are now considering pulling our kids out altogether so we don’t miss Christmas and summer with family."

'We are not sending her back this year.'

Mum-of-two Stephanie has decided to remove her children from school for the rest of the year due to the constant worry and disruption.

"After just one week, there was a confirmed case at the school. The school was closed for deep cleaning for one day. The kids all went back for three days and then we get a message via the school app that there had been a case, so I went and picked up my daughter.


"On Thursday night, we got the letter confirming our daughter was a close contact, and we needed to be tested, isolate for 14 days, and then be tested twice more.

"The tests all came back negative today. And we are back to online learning next week.

"We are not sending her back this year."

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The impact on schools and teachers.

Belinda in Albury-Wodonga said that the situation for parents and schools there has been an 'absolute nightmare'. 

"We have had over 30 schools closed this week, with households told to isolate each time regardless of vaccination status," Belinda says.

"Parents can't work for two weeks if their primary school child is a contact, retail is having trouble staffing stores, and our hospitals are struggling.

"Families are told to isolate at home but many do not have the resources to access grocery deliveries, so we are scrambling to get food packs and cleaning products out to people who are falling through the cracks. 

"Our school staff are expected to contact trace on top of managing staff, student and family welfare and they are exhausted."

How have schools coped overseas?

Nic lives in Colombia and says that her kids are back at school full time after returning to school part time in August.

"My daughter's school went back in August 2020 but each class was split in three, so the kids were doing one day in person, in a group of eight, followed by two online days from home. 

"In October 2020, they moved up to 50/50 learning in person and online. In January, cases spiked and schools closed again for two months. 

"Now, they are back at school 100 per cent of the time. Mask wearing is mandatory and there are morning temperature checks, but apart from that everything is 'normal'.

"The risk is still there, but everyone I know is vaccinated and people are still super vigilant."

Frances, a mum-of-two who lives in the UK, said that when kids first returned to school after lockdown, they were placed in year group 'bubbles'. If one person tested positive, the whole bubble had to go home to isolate.

"With the bubbles, it meant there were always year groups off school and learning from home," Frances says.

"Now, if someone in your household has COVID, if you are double vaccinated or under 18, you can come and go as you please and go about your normal business - which includes going to school. 

"If there is a positive case in the class, other kids are advised to take a PCR test. And if positive, they have to stay home for 10 days."

What next for Australian parents?

With a quiet change to policy in NSW that allows fully vaccinated parents to leave their homes if they have a child isolating from school, public health policy makers recognise that the current situation is not sustainable.

For all the parents currently isolating with their kids, like teacher Melissa, they hope more changes come quickly.

"It’s been hard, I’ve been working from home on some things for school, my husband has been working from home. I’ve been homeschooling the boys. We can’t even go out for a walk," Melissa says.

"The boys ask every day how many more sleeps until they can go to the park. It's so sad."

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

Have you had an experience with your school closing? How are you managing working and isolation? Let us know in the comments.

Feature Image: Getty.

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