What Happens When Schools Close for Coronavirus: A Working Parent's Guide

Experts weigh on the likelihood your child's school could close due to the spread of the coronavirus, when it would reopen, and what options parents who work full-time will have when it comes to child care.

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Parents.com's COVID-19 Guide for up-to-date information on statistics, disease spread, and travel advisories.

The coronavirus is on everyone’s minds, and with good reason. The virus has spread to over 177 countries, with over 1,045,300 confirmed cases and 60,945 deaths in the U.S. alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are recommending social distancing—the practice of limiting exposure to groups or gatherings of people—to help prevent the spread of the virus. One particular aspect of social distancing that has many parents concerned is the potential for school closures.

mom working with kids at home
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Will Our School Close Because of the Coronavirus?

School districts across the country have closed because of the coronavirus. It’s difficult to determine when or even if schools might close in your area, according to Vanessa Kerry, founder and CEO of Seed Global Health and director of the program in Global Public Policy and Social Change at Harvard Medical School.

"The spread of COVID-19 in the United States is a rapidly changing situation," she explains. "We will need to continue to look to the CDC and individual states’ departments of health for the latest guidance. It is important to remember that COVID-19 is spread like many other viruses and can be prevented through hand-washing for 20 seconds, the use of hand sanitizers with over 60 percent alcohol, and already existing practices like staying home if you show signs or symptoms of cold or flu.”

When Would School Open Again?

If schools in your district do close, Kerry says it could be a while before they resume normal school days. Duration of closure "is very difficult to determine as it relies on a number of different factors," says Kerry.

Can I Work Remotely?

"Everyone’s situation is unique in terms of the demands of their job as well as accommodations that their company makes when it comes to child care," explains Natalie Kesler, director of human resources for global tech company, Percona. "Remote work is not a substitute for child care. However, it can offer working parents the ability to be more effective in getting work done without having to take a personal day to do so. If a family situation allows, as well as the job, flexing one’s work hours can allow for maintaining oversight for children that are unexpectedly at home while getting work done."

Even at home, you should set realistic expectations and prepare in advance if at all possible. Have plenty of activities for the kids to enjoy during conference calls. This may be a perfect time to be more lenient about screen time, or if you are opposed to too much TV, then make sure you have art activities, games, and snacks available that the kids can grab themselves. This is a great time to purchase a few "new" activity items, and then bring them out for days like this.

Can I Bring My Kids to Work?

It might be tempting to pack your kids up in the car and take them along on your morning commute, but bringing kids to work comes with its own special set of considerations.

"Although it can be tough when faced with school or daycare closures before you bring your kids into work, you should follow the same guidelines you do for cold and flu season," says Kesler. "All children (and adults) should stay home if they have symptoms such as a fever, cough and other respiratory problems."

If everyone is healthy and your workplace allows kids, there are still a few things to keep in mind before you commit to bringing them with you. "Are they old enough to entertain themselves (with iPads, coloring books, etc.) for several, if not many hours during the day?" asks Kesler. "Do you have space where they can work alongside you, or near your area, without disruption to others? Are you able to engage with them during work hours, or does your job require you to be in meetings that will require others to watch them? Can your children practice good personal hygiene habits while at your workplace? Remember, not all of your co-workers have children, and some may be immune suppressed."

If your rambunctious 3-year-old is not likely to sit quietly for long stretches of time, it might be best to arrange to work remotely until schools reopen.

The most important step is opening a dialogue with your supervisor. "Have the conversation with your boss now, before the need arises" suggests Kesler. "Have an open conversation about expectations and your unique situation so that you know ahead of time what options you have. Also, be sure to subscribe to your school district's communication alert system, so you will have the latest information as early as possible."

Keep on top of coronavirus news in your area and reach out to your school district if you have any questions about the possibility of closures.

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