The worst souvenir a working mom can get during a pandemic.

Sharon Clark
7 min readAug 13, 2021


It’s Friday. I’m working from home this week with my 4 year old daughter next to me on the couch. She pops her head in front of the camera during my Zoom calls and dangles barbies over my shoulder. I nudge her out of the frame like she’s my annoying little sister and mouth “DON’T”. Normally she would be in school right now, but on Tuesday morning this week, we were turned away at her classroom’s door. A school administrator approached us in the hallway to inform me that my child had been in close contact with a COVID-positive individual during their infectious period on Monday (just the day before!) and that she would need to go home and quarantine. On day five of quarantine, she would need to get a PCR test. This is her second quarantine due to COVID exposure this summer. The first was two weeks ago. This is what happens when people take a summer vacation and bring COVID back as a souvenir for the the other families at school. Thanks. I hate it.

My daughter attends a private, year-round STEM-focused early childhood education program in our Massachusetts hometown. I pay $1,800 a month for tuition. The cost of childcare in Massachusetts averages about $20,000/year, so this isn’t unusual. The school is exceptional. After a month of adjusting to her class, she blossomed academically and learned how to read, write, and count. But this school is more to me and my daughter than just a place I bring her for childcare and education. I’m a full-time working single parent and I don’t have any family members that live nearby, so the teachers at this school are part of my “village” to raise my daughter. It is a privilege to have access to this school and the ability to pay for it during the pandemic. However, right now it feels like I pay a higher price tag than other parents and I’m starting to resent them fo it. So far I’ve had to pay for 3 weeks of tuition without being able to send my kid to school because other families summer vacation plans have shut down my daughter’s classroom.

All winter and spring of 2021, the school maintained several COVID safety measures that were very effective:

  • Masks for all staff and children 2+.
  • Daily symptom check form required before drop-off.
  • No parents in the building for drop-off/pickup. Masks required for parents while in the vicinity of the school building.
  • Smaller class sizes, spaced out seating, no mixing of classrooms.
  • If a child traveled out of state with parents, the parents were required to submit their vaccine card to the school and the child was required to show a negative PCR COVID test result before they could return to the classroom.

There wasn’t a single COVID-related classroom closure at the school while these measures were in place. At the end of June when vaccination rates for adults were high and infection rates were low in Massachusetts, the school gradually lifted most of the safety requirements. It felt like the right thing to do. It felt safe. But it turns out it wasn’t. It seems like families completely abandoned all the pandemic safety routines that had kept us all safe for the last 6 months, because the flu and COVID crept in and spread with a vengeance. Thankfully the school responded by bringing back all of the safety measures that had been working so well, but it still feels like the families need to do more.

This week the burden of my community’s actions felt heavy on my shoulders. It sucks when children are sick. I laid awake in bed at night all week wondering when or if COVID symptoms would start to kick in for my daughter. Someone in my daughter’s class had obviously sent their child to school while awaiting COVID test results, so they had withheld information from the daily health screening form. How can I trust these families when they do things like that? Should I withdraw her from the school for the rest of the summer? What would happen if she missed out on more weeks of school? With all of the uncertainty running through my mind, I decided to write to the school this week to ask for more safety measures.

Here’s my email to them with identifying information redacted:

Hi school administrators,

I appreciate that you are responding to the surging COVID cases by putting safety measures in place again. I realize that the delta variant is more transmissible by nature, but right now I feel like the families in the school community are letting their guards down too much and that they should be doing more to uphold a safe environment for the children and teachers. During the first school closure at the end of July, I was appalled when I saw on Facebook that one family with children in both [class 1] and [class 2] shared that she had taken her kids to a crowded petting zoo while they were supposed to be quarantining per the school and health department guidance due to their close contact exposure with a COVID-positive individual during their infectious period. I get it that we all have COVID fatigue, but it seems like some folks don’t think the rules apply to them.

Would it be possible to add questions to the Daily self-screen checklist about COVID testing in addition to the question about sysmptoms and exposure?


- “Has your child taken a laboratory PCR test for COVID-19 since they were last in school?” — Y/N

- “Has your child received the result from their laboratory PCR test for COVID-19” — Y/N

- “If your child has not received the result from their PCR test, please keep them home. If they have received the result, please send it to the school”

Yesterday after my daughter was turned away at the door of [class 1] because of yet another positive COVID case in the classroom, I just felt completely let down by the other families. Why is this happening? Why, after a 10 day school closure and the reinstatement of the daily health check form, would I bring my daughter to school on Monday with no issue, but then on Tuesday morning learn that someone who had been in her classroom on Monday had just informed the school that they tested positive? Does that mean that a parent tested their child on Sunday or Monday and still sent them to school while they awaited the test results? Was it worth it for 1 day of childcare to shut the classroom down for all their other families? Obviously I don’t know the full story and I respect the privacy of others, but if that is what happened, then I think that this reckless behavior should be addressed by asking parents about COVID testing status in the daily questionnaire. It blew my mind when you guys had to spell it out for parents that if a COVID positive child had a sibling in the school, that they would need to keep both of them home. Sigh.

I pay tuition for my daughter to go to school for education and socialization in a safe environment while I am working. She LOVES her teaches. I really love the school. I understand that it is out of the school’s control that the virus is happening and that you are doing the very best that you can to operate during a public health crisis. Maybe I’m more sensitive to the impact of school closures from COVID because I’m a single mom and I don’t have a partner available to help me or a support network of family here for backup childcare. My work projects and deadlines don’t go away when school is closed. It feels unfair to carry the burden of other people’s decisions.

Any family that chooses not to get vaccinated or chooses not to follow social distancing guidelines or chooses to withhold testing status or symptom info on the health form at a time like this has more control over my life than I do right now.

Back in February when my daughter started at your program, I was afraid of COVID exposure when I sent her to school, but it was so important to me that she got back into a classroom to learn that I put blind faith in families I had never met and accepted the risk. The mask requirement and daily health check form helped me gain trust in the community for the first few months my daughter was at school. I viewed the health check form not just as a tool for me to make decisions about keeping my daughter home or sending her to school based on her health, but also as a daily reminder that my actions impact the health and safety of the teachers, children, and parents involved with the school.

Thank you for all of your hard work to manage this nightmare pandemic. I hope that my suggestions for adding questions about testing to the daily health form will be considered.


This morning they replied and said they’d consider my suggestions.



Sharon Clark

Not a scientist. Writes about digital health tech. Works in the business of designing products & platforms out of the raw materials of life.