Parents confess to sending kids to school after COVID exposures: 'I know I am not the only mom who has done so'
- Insider talked to three moms who sent their kids to school after a COVID exposure, despite rules.
- Many parents had to make difficult decisions during the pandemic, especially lower-income families.
Brooke Cavalla tested positive for COVID-19 on a Friday in Spring 2022 — and sent her three school-aged children to class the following Monday.
The 39-year-old exercise specialist and online business owner told Insider that she didn't test her little ones for the virus that weekend because they didn't show symptoms and were terrified of the tests.
It's not that she doesn't take this virus seriously — her father is immunocompromised — but she felt trapped.
"While I'm not proud of it, I know I am not the only mom who has done so, and I really didn't have a choice," Cavalla, whose kids were 5 months, 3, 4, and 6 years old at the time, told Insider over email. As a work-from-home parent of four, she said, "it's very hard to keep my kids home 'just in case' they are sick."
It's true that Cavalla isn't the only parent who's bent, broken, or ignored school and daycare COVID guidelines over the past few years.
In a recent survey of 580 parents published in JAMA Network Open, researchers found that more than a quarter reported misrepresenting their kids' COVID status or otherwise not adhering to COVID isolation protocols, typically in the name of parental freedom. Other common reasons for skirting school protocols were wanting to resume a normal life for the kids and being unable to miss work or other responsibilities.
Lead study author Andrea Gurmankin Levy, a psychology professor at Middlesex Community College in Connecticut, told Insider she and her co-authors suspect the true percentage of flubbers is higher. "This is obviously serious and concerning because it very likely resulted in more COVID cases and more deaths," she said.
"We carried on like nothing was going on"
One New Jersey mom, who asked to remain anonymous due to the delicate nature of the subject, said she sent her 5-year-old to school after COVID exposures twice.
The first time, in January 2022, she sent the kid to school two days after her partner tested positive instead of the five days the school required. The child didn't have symptoms and tested negative, she added.
"I was the sole caretaker, being that my significant other was sick, and honestly, I had to work," she said in an email. "It was impossible to juggle online learning and working."
The second time, the mom sent the kid to school after testing positive herself in Spring 2022. "We did not tell the school, we did not keep our child home, we carried on like nothing was going on," she wrote. Again, the child showed no symptoms.
"It kind of seems selfish, but we were put in these horrible scenarios of trying to balance a lot all at once," she wrote. "It was better for our child to be in school than to be at home with" a sick mom, she said. She doesn't regret her choice.
Another mom, who also asked to remain anonymous, said that sending her child to daycare was a matter of picking and choosing which protocols — the CDC's or the school's — to adhere to.
When she learned she was COVID-positive in Summer 2022, she told her 9-month-old son's daycare that her family was out of town. The mom isolated from the baby while keeping him home for five days after her symptoms began, but then "returned to town" and sent him back to daycare — well before the school's 10-day post-exposure protocol.
The mom, a 30-something fashion director in New York, said she followed CDC guidance, which she felt was more up-to-date, and less burdensome to parents, than the school's. Plus, her husband was exhausted. "I'd given him the gift of solo parenting for the week," she said.
Underprivileged parents were forced to make especially difficult choices
Levy said that parents' decisions during the pandemic shouldn't be demonized, since they reflect the need for more systemic support, like paid leave for family illness.
"Especially for our most vulnerable, impoverished populations who are living paycheck to paycheck, they faced a terrible choice of, 'Do I stay home with a kid in quarantine and risk losing my job and not being able to put food on the table, or do I violate public health rules and send a sick kids to school and expose other people?'" she said.
"So while it's really important to move toward a focus on the greater good, we should simultaneously reserve judgment of one another because we never really know what's going on in someone else's head or someone else's life," she added.
Then again, she added, "some people may very well have sent their sick kids to school because, you know, they wanted to go to the gym."
So it's understandable, Levy said, that some parents, especially those with immunocompromised children, might feel angry about other parents' choices. "One parent's pursuit of personal freedom is another person's new infection," she said.
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