It’s that time of year again: back-to-school! However, this year, there’s a new emotion in the mix—turmoil. Burness parents and caregivers across the world are making hard decisions while living in limbo. Several say this year feels worse, particularly considering the spread of new COVID-19 variants and the impact of those who are vaccine- or mask-hesitant.  

Parents and caregivers with young children wonder if the benefits of sending them to daycare or school outweigh the risks. For others with children who are a little older, there are concerns around missing out on learning opportunities and social interactions. 

Adam Zimmerman has been pushing his school district to implement stricter precautionary measures such as mask and vaccine mandates. And it’s not just Zimmerman igniting a local movement; it’s other Montgomery County parents, teachers and students as well. 

“It’s really a team effort to keep kids and teachers safe and ensure schools can stay open. There are different elements here—vaccination, testing, outdoor eating—where community members are advocating for stronger policies that maximize protections, especially for the youngest kids who can’t get vaccinated yet. But it’s not being done in an adversarial way. We are working together with the school district and local policymakers toward a common goal: keeping everyone safe and healthy.”

Like many parents, Burnessers are struggling with balancing their kids’ physical, mental and emotional health. For example, another Burness parent said, “I’ve thought about keeping my child home, but then what happens when they can’t be outdoors and go to the playground since it’ll be too cold? It’ll definitely impact their development to stay indoors during those months and not be around kids and just adults. I’m afraid I will regret my decision to not send them to school when the colder months hit.”

Parents and caregivers of children under the age of 12 are faced with a difficult decision as Katie Fogleman, mom to a 4-year-old and an 18-month-old, says: “If we send our children to preschool, we are risking their health and safety. If we keep them home, they miss out on some of that social-emotional learning, and it’s tough to manage child care while working full-time jobs remotely.”

Kara Basabe and her husband decided not to send their 3-year-old, Luna, to a play-based program. While they wanted her to socialize with kids her age, at the end of the day, they decided to keep Luna at home to keep their family safe. Fortunately, they have the option of one parent being able to provide child care since he is not working full-time, which is an option not every family has. 

“Until we get her the vaccine, we won’t send her to indoor settings or have interactions with people we don’t know. Now the hope is for when anyone of any age can get the vaccine. The data about kids having mild symptoms is not as relevant when your kid is the one who ends up getting sick, ends up at the hospital or with long-term symptoms,”  Basabe says.

There are also households balancing two disparate worlds—some children are under the age of 12 and are unvaccinated, whereas the rest of the household is vaccinated. Elizabeth Wenk  expresses conflicting feelings about the complicated circumstances her family faces. 

“I feel so happy and excited about the school year starting for my high school students who are vaccinated because soccer is starting, and they have all of the fun with their friends to look forward to. And they will be educated in school. But then I’m in another world with my elementary school students who are not eligible to be vaccinated. It makes it impossible to plan because your day—your workday—can easily be thrown upside down when the phone rings notifying you of exposure and the need to quarantine. Sometimes it feels like we are never going to get out of this pandemic.”

Across the Atlantic Ocean in Kenya, Nancy Moss expresses optimism and confidence, especially in Kenya’s Ministry of Education, which implemented recommendations of the country’s Education Task Force on Covid-19.

“I think kids are resilient. I haven’t had any issues with my kids going back to school regarding safety. I feel very confident about COVID-19 safety when it comes to being in Kenya, especially as it relates to kids. Even if they’re not vaccinated, I still feel very safe.”

One thing all the featured Burness parents mention is they cannot wait for the day when all kids are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Until then, they are calling on their community members in and out of school to get vaccinated if they’re eligible. “At the end of the day, what’s really needed is a community effort to protect children and those who are immunocompromised,” says Burness parent Katy Lenard

Burness’ parents are encouraging our wider society to express the same amount of compassion, if not more than we saw at the very beginning of the pandemic. It doesn’t have to be every person for themselves. Once we break from that mentality, we can start beating this virus that has held a tight grip on the world for almost two years.