#parent | #kids | Just a tummy ache or the COVID ‘cooties’ that’ll shut down school? | Opinion

By Ellen S. Wilkowe

It started with a stomach ache. “It really hurts,” my 10-year-old daughter wailed. “But I’m also really hungry.”

It was 7:30 in the morning and she had just finished a private ice skating lesson: the possible origin of her stomach ache, a spill on the ice — and/or hunger.

I suggested that she try eating something to see how she felt. One egg and cheese sandwich later, it still “really hurt.”

“I don’t want to go to school,” she said.

I gently nudged her to just try school and that if her stomach still “really hurt” to go see the nurse.

What sounded like a simple compromise wound up opening my eyes and mind into the inner workings of a school-aged child’s thought process amidst this new and continuing normal.

The Allamuchy district, out in the remote corner of northwest New Jersey, followed the state’s guidelines and implemented a hybrid plan. Students were split into two cohorts, the blue and the gold. Each cohort would attend school for two consecutive days for four hours each day. The entire district would be virtual on Wednesdays. My daughter had landed in the Thursday and Friday cohort.

So far — and I pause to cross my fingers — so good. Until the onset of what I now refer to as Stomach-ache Gate.

“If I go to the nurse and he sends me home then everyone will think I have coronavirus and the whole school will shut down and everyone will talk about me.”

As a burgeoning middle schooler, my fifth-grader was probably more scared of potential gossip over having the actual virus.

“Please! I can do virtual!”

I let silence fill the car and after careful consideration, I decided that she made a very good case.

Since the district no longer accepted phone calls or e-mails regarding a student’s change in schedule, I had to log on to a special app to report her as absent.

An hour and one miraculous recovery later, the school nurse called.

“I see that your daughter is absent today, can you tell me why? We need to know all the symptoms.”

Fair enough, given month six into a pandemic that seemingly has no end in sight.

I explained in detail the nature of the stomach ache, reinforcing her miraculous recovery and assuring him multiple times that “it was nothing.”

And then I unleashed some questions of my own.

How does the school handle normal illnesses like good old-fashioned sniffles, headaches and yes, stomach aches? I imagine my daughter is not alone in her thought process of being the girl with the cooties who shut down the school. I wonder if other parents feel this way as well.

Would you send your child to school with a simple sniffle or play the safe-keeping card to avoid becoming THAT parent and having your kid bear the brunt of it, all while social media eats you and your family alive?

When I posed to the school nurse how the district takes into account normal illnesses that may or may not indicate COVID-19, he answered in a roundabout kind of way. “There is a list of criteria that each student must meet in order to come back to school.”

This list of criteria, my hunch told me, was probably akin to the COVID-19 symptoms similar to the online questionnaire that parents are mandated to complete the mornings of in-person school.

And such criteria, I learned, would require a doctor’s note and/or negative COVID-19 test in order for a child to return to school.

I wondered if a stomach ache would have warranted either a doctor’s note or a COVID-19 test, but I’m actually glad we didn’t have to find out.

I also realize that I am lucky enough to have had the option to call in “virtual” because plenty of working parents might not have been afforded that opportunity.

Truth be told under normal circumstances, I would have indeed kicked her to the curb at school and have allowed the miraculous recovery to occur in the classroom because peers kind of have the power that parents once had before middle school: To make it all better

If only we could do the same for COVID-19.

But for now, I have a child to pick up at the curbside of her school, where the only pain she may have identified was the boy sitting next to her — or her very empty stomach that no longer really hurt.

Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.

Here’s how to submit an op-ed or Letter to the Editor. Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow us on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and on Facebook at NJ.com Opinion. Get the latest news updates right in your inbox. Subscribe to NJ.com’s newsletters.

Source link