Leona O'Neill: Easing of Covid restrictions in the classroom presents dilemma for parents

It's almost time for kids to go back to school, but what kind of Covid-safe environment will they be entering at the end of August? As England continues to ease classroom restrictions, Leona braces herself for us following suit...

England has eased Covid restrictions in the classroom – but will the north follow its lead?

IN A few weeks time, our children will be going back to school after what has been a bizarre summer in a desperately surreal almost two-year Covid era.

They have navigated their education alongside the beast that is Coronavirus. They have self-isolated and home schooled, maybe watched family members endure sickness. They have had what was once normal become dangerous. They have had exams cancelled and their whole lives have been turned upside down.

This week A-Level and GCSE students will receive their exam marks. For all those in these important years this has been the toughest of times. When you are that age, exam results mean the world and a lot of students have struggled greatly with the pressures this global pandemic has put upon them both inside and outside of school.

My boy will get his GCSE marks on Thursday. A very academic and dedicated child up until the pandemic, he struggled enormously with online learning and staying motivated while learning at home. I just hope this year can be a little more normal for him and his fellow students and they are allowed to have a good run as opposed to the stop and start process of last year.

As glad as I am to see schools reopen and some normality return, I am also anxious about my kids going back in, as many parents are. The more transmissible Delta variant has seen high numbers of people here in the north being infected.

There are more and more young people needing help from our hospitals, there is concern over long Covid in children and we are still trying to protect our more vulnerable members of our families from this blasted virus.

School last year was a delicate and nerve-wrecking balancing act of trying to maintain good mental health in lockdown, hoping that our kids merge back successfully with their peers after being apart for so long, picking up their education where they left off while also praying that they didn't pick Covid up when mixing with their classmates.

I think we'll always remember the phone calls from school from teachers telling us that a student in our child's bubble has tested positive and they need to self-isolate. Some of us will remember vividly children coming down with Covid, and some of us will remember catching it off them when it came into the house and all of the emotions and fear and apprehension that goes along with all that.

In England, many Covid restrictions in schools are being scrapped. From August 16, under-18s in schools there no longer have to self-isolate if they've been in close contact with a positive case. 'Bubbles' have ended there and they have also stopped the staggering of start and finish times. Face coverings and social distancing are no longer necessary either. All these things are still compulsory here, as we haven't made any decisions on them.

The thought of eased restrictions might strike fear into parents sending their children back into the classroom. Many parents face a tough, almost impossible choice, particularly those with children in the unvaccinated age groups. They are wrestling with the thought of sending their kids back into the classroom and essentially risking a Covid infection – or keeping them at home and jeopardizing their mental health and educational development.

There's no easy answer. These last two years have been a white knuckle rollercoaster ride for most parents. And we're going up the slow, apprehensive bit at the moment. At the end of August we'll tip over the edge again to the sound of the school bell. All any of us can do is hang on tight and hope for the best.

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