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Back to school

Everything is a bit different this year, isn’t it?

My oldest started first grade last year, and we were all super excited about it. The first day of school was something we all looked forward to. This year, we’re once again stressed about her first day in school, but for all the wrong reasons.

These past few COVID months have been stressful for all of us. For some odd reason though, I had grown used to this whole situation.

In March, our family quickly figured out a routine. We found a way to live our lives while staying safe and ensuring the safety of others around us. Distance learning wasn’t always easy, but we found a routine there as well. I am lucky and privileged to have the flexibility to take care of my kids while working from home. In the end, my daughter and I enjoyed our time learning together from March to July. All things considered, we were in a good place until a few weeks ago.

Not anymore.

Yesterday, my daughter started school again. Real school. No more distance learning, now she must spend 6 hours a day with her 24 classmates.

Kid with a mask on

With that one change, our routine and the different safety measures we had built around us are gone. That’s quite the change from our existing routine, and it’s had a big impact on our stress levels at home. We must now trust the safety nets put in place by her school’s board.

I’m not sure we can.

Here is the overall number of active cases in my country right now:

Source: worldometers.info (numbers extracted from koronavirus.gov.hu).

Back in April, the whole country was in lockdown. Today, all schools are open, except for the few that already reported active cases.

In our school, masks are mandatory for kids starting in 6th grade, and strongly recommended for kids in 1st grade and up.

In practice, most of the kids in my kid’s classroom don’t wear a mask. I don’t blame them, really:

  • We got to know about this requirement the day before we went back to school, so parents may not have had the time to get a mask for their kid.
  • Some of the teachers do not wear a mask themselves, thus setting an example.

In practice and looking at the numbers until today, I suppose that means that we’re facing one of two likely scenarios:

  • Now that schools are open again, the number of cases will sky-rocket in the next few weeks, and the government will be forced to close down schools again.
  • Someone in our school will get sick and be tested positive. This will likely be a teacher, they’re statistically the most likely to develop symptoms bad enough to allow you to get tested in Hungary. The school will lock down in response.

How is this good for anyone? How is this something acceptable for anyone? Why can’t we work towards a third scenario where we all work towards limiting risks and avoid the 2 alternatives?

Yes, most of our kids won’t get badly sick from this. Yes, most of us will survive this just fine. That won’t stop one of the two scenarios above from happening though. “Most” is not “All”. Our behaviour still impacts everyone around us. Everything we do has an impact on others, whether they’re healthy, wealthy, old or young.

I can’t say I really understand most people’s reactions about this. In conversations with the school, in news, in comments on Social Media, folks appear to be either in denial of the whole thing, wanting their life to “go back to normal” no matter the consequences, or accept the situation and shrug.

Like so many other topics in the past few years, we’ve again managed to turn a worldwide event into a political topic. Wearing a mask, instead of being a mark of respect of each other, has become a political stance. And when we’re not talking politics, we have to argue on whether scientists are right, whether this virus is real or not.

Remember this comic?

Source:  Joel Pett, USA Today, 2009

This is what we’ve become. We should respect each other and take care of each other. We should be working together to solve problems, learn, progress. I’d love for everyone to wear a mask not because it’s mandatory, but out of respect of each other, because it’s the right thing to do.

Instead, we spend our time arguing, fighting.

I am tired of all this. I am frustrated. But maybe most of all, I feel powerless.