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OPINION: 'The Premier wants kids to go back to school next week. I won’t be sending mine.'

I’m not much of a rebel, usually. But next week I’m going to be one.

I live in NSW, and Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants students back in school next week for at least one day. I’m not planning to send mine. And I’m not alone.

A new poll by The Guardian has found that 41 per cent of Australian parents are planning to keep their kids home, even if schools in their state are open.

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Why are there so many of us prepared to go against what our governments want us to do? Because ultimately, this is a decision for parents to make, not politicians.

My daughter would be happy to go back to school. She misses her teachers and her classmates. I even saw her hugging the laptop during a Zoom session last week. But our family of four has been isolating for around six weeks now. One of us has a health condition that greatly increases the risk of death from coronavirus. We’re not ready to end our isolation just yet.

I’ve always put my trust in medical authorities, but COVID-19 is different. Medical authorities can’t agree on this one. The Victorian Government doesn’t think kids should be going back to school yet. The NSW Government does.

A week ago, we were being told it was safe for students in NSW to return to face-to-face teaching. Earlier this week, after Warragamba Public School was closed due to a seven-year-old student being diagnosed with coronavirus, Premier Berejiklian said she anticipated this would happen more frequently as students returned.

“These outbreaks are likely to occur but we’ve demonstrated best practice,” she said.

Of course, as we’ve seen, best practice isn’t always perfect, with new coronavirus cases continuing to be reported at Sydney aged care home, Newmarch House, three-and-a-half weeks after the first one. Can we really expect schools swarming with hundreds of rowdy kids to do better?

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Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Meadowglen Primary School was closed this week after a music teacher was diagnosed with coronavirus. Keith Campbell told The Age that the virus spread through three generations of his family, with his nine-year-old granddaughter becoming seriously ill.

This is not measles or influenza, where the science is in. COVID-19 has only been around for a few months. Medical experts are still grappling to understand it.

Just a week ago, we were told that health authorities in at least six countries were investigating a link between COVID-19 and an inflammatory syndrome in children. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said some otherwise healthy children had died from the syndrome. That was in addition to the nine UK children and teenagers who had died from COVID-19.

Just this week, The New York Times ran an article on the new studies adding to the evidence that children transmit coronavirus.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she might not re-open schools until August because, based on recent Danish data, a full re-opening this month would most likely cause “a resurgence in the virus”.

This is my family. These are my kids. My husband and I are both working from home, so we’re not crippling the country’s economy. My kids are learning at home, but even if they weren’t, they’re young enough to miss a few weeks of school without it harming their education.

What would really harm my kids, and their future, would be the loss of a close family member.

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This is a decision only parents can make. We know whether we need to send our kids back to school for financial reasons or mental health reasons. We know whether we have a vulnerable family member who needs to be protected. We know if our children are going to hug their friends as soon as they get to school, share their lunch, or stick their fingers in their mouth. We will make the decision that is right for our family.

At a time when all sorts of other COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted, while community transmission is still happening, I’m not prepared to send my kids to school just yet. I want to wait a couple more weeks to see if there is the second wave of infections that some experts are predicting.

I would so, so love to be proven wrong. I would so, so love to realise I had been worrying for nothing.

I’m looking forward to the day I can drop my kids off at school, wave them goodbye and head home to work without interruptions. But that day isn’t next week.

Feature image: Getty.

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