The Biggest Threat to Our Kids Isn’t Omicron. It’s Closing Their Schools | Opinion

On Sunday afternoon, I was talking to my mom on the phone about the chaos engulfing New York with the Omicron variant spreading and testing hard to find. I told her that I remained hopeful. « I don’t think schools will go remote, » I said. « Everyone already knows that remote school is not okay. I just don’t think society will accept it. »

I was thinking about my 13-year-old daughter. She goes to a small, extraordinarily expensive special ed school for which I, like many other parents of kids with special needs, sue the city for tuition reimbursement—taxpayer dollars—because the city has an obligation to provide every child a free and appropriate education. My daughter’s school is the only one in the city that provides the kind of highly-structured learning she needs to make progress with academics. It’s the only one that offers the intensive therapy that helps with her profoundly apraxic speech and other « activities of daily living »—whatever independence and self-sufficiency a disabled person and her family can hope for, like her ability to dress and feed herself.

And without that schooling, my daughter along with many other special needs kids had experienced significant, heart-wrenching setbacks. She had greater anxiety around peers, lower frustration tolerance that inhibits her ability to try, and a regression from a second grade to a first grade math level.

It’s not just special needs kids, though. Nearly two years in to the pandemic, the harm of remote schooling has been widely documented and acknowledged. Multiple studies found that virtual school resulted in significant learning loss, which was borne disproportionately by lower income students.

So on Sunday, talking to my mom, I remained convinced that remote schooling was behind me. But immediately after I hung up the phone, I got the email from my daughter’s school: the school was going remote for the week.

Despite having no mandated school closures, rising case counts and positive COVID cases in schools are causing individual schools to close because policies have not been updated since the incredibly effective COVID vaccines—not to mention disease treatments—became widely available.

But there is a human cost to acting like « it’s like March 2020 out there »—a phrase floating around this week that makes me cringe. And it’s a big one.


I know what March 2020 was like. I’m an ICU nurse, and in the early days of the pandemic, the ICU where I work pivoted from treating neurosurgery patients to treating critically ill COVID patients in just a couple of days. Almost overnight, we nurses started giving powerful drugs we were totally unfamiliar with, caring for unstable patients very unlike our typical patient population. Safety protocols were officially discarded because they were too time consuming for the unbearably understaffed units. Physicians Facebook messaged with doctors in China for clues on how to treat patients. Everybody was scared and nobody knew what to do. Hundreds of people died in our city every day, having never had a chance at survival.

March 2020 was a time characterized by fear of an utterly unknown virus that we had no defenses against and no ability to treat. A time when the city’s hospitals were overwhelmed by a sudden surge of critically ill, dying people. A time of ignorance about the virus, and optimism about the possibilities of remote schooling.

Neither of those is still true. We understand this virus now. And we know the enormous human cost of remote schooling.

I wasn’t at work on Monday because I had my annual meeting with the Department of Education about my daughter’s « Individual Educational Plan » to discuss her school placement and accommodations for the next year. While she sat at her screen, I sat at mine and for two hours, her educators and I discussed her needs with DOE representatives. We explained the setbacks the pandemic’s remote schooling had caused her.

Then I left the meeting and found her tooling around on YouTube during class (I was secretly impressed with her ability to navigate online) and chewing on her knuckles—a habit she developed during last year’s remote schooling that took months to fade out, then reappeared as soon as she had to sit behind that screen again.

On the subway ride home from picking up my younger daughter that afternoon, I got another email: Her school was going remote too. When we got home, a common annoyance—my 13-year-old’s inability to choose which cartoon she wanted to watch on Netflix—spiraled out of control, a behavioral meltdown that I attribute to her being fried from using the computer all day. She raged, my six-year-old skittered away terrified, and I screamed myself hoarse.

On the very day that the president said « We’re making sure that COVID-19 no longer closes businesses or schools, » both of my children were home from school. Both schools closed because they had positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff, following outdated department of health protocols that don’t reflect the reality of COVID now: Omicron is wildly contagious and will sweep the country no matter what; is no more (and probably less) severe than prior variants; and, despite being susceptible to vaccines, will still cause numerous vaccinated people to test positive and a smaller number of vaccinated people to become mildly symptomatic.

Like many parents in my situation, I am extremely patient. The swiftness with which I snapped at my daughter’s dysregulated outburst wasn’t like me. It came from a vivid flashback to the kind of trapped despair I felt during months of strained relationships and palpable developmental setbacks caused by remote schooling. It felt like PTSD.

The assurance that schools are closing for the sake of safety when everyone is vaccinated or has had the opportunity to be vaccinated, and when school is where my daughter learns how to speak and how to care for herself, feels like gaslighting. And after all we’ve been through and all the work we’ve done—the doctors and nurses, the researchers and scientists, the parents and the teachers and the kids—health policy that endorses or even permits school closures feels like betrayal.

As an ICU nurse with two kids, I can tell you that the risk to our children is real. It’s in closing their schools again.

Kristen McConnell is a nurse. She is writing a book about her daughter and how medicine influences our lives and identities.

The views in this article are the writer’s own.

Cet article est traduit automatiquement. N’hésitez pas à nous signaler s’il y a des erreurs.


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