Co-parenting during school closures/coronavirus crisis

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Jackie Dupler
Sinas Dramis

When parents face an unexpected school closure, managing childcare needs on short notice can be difficult to navigate.

This is especially true for divorced, separated, or single parents. Managing shared custody agreements on top of separate schedules can generate conflicts, and recent events have created extreme circumstances that make these problems even more difficult to manage.

The outbreak of COVID-19, or coronavirus, has resulted in the closure of institutions and large gatherings in order to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced on the evening of March 12th that all Michigan K-12 schools would be mandated to close the following Monday, from March 16th until at least April 5th, yet many schools opted to close even sooner. This quick turnaround left parents scrambling to ensure work and childcare needs would be taken care of.

So, what do parents need to consider during this unexpected school closure and in the case of future long-term school closures?

Take Precautions

During the current school closings, and anytime a child is home due for health-related reasons, remind your household to wash their hands and avoid touching their eyes and face. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has resources outlining recommendations for illness prevention, such as social-distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And of course, seek medical treatment when necessary.

Respect Your Co-Parenting Agreements

Unexpected school closures happen every year in Michigan, sometimes for multiple days at a time when a big snowstorm hits. This can be especially difficult for divorced parents to manage between their separate schedules. How do you decide who stays home to watch the kids?

Just as you would for a snow day, following your custody agreement and working together to meet your childcare and work needs will help you manage necessary decision-making. Be respectful of each other and understand that your first priority as a parent is to keep your children safe and healthy. In long-term cases such as the current school closing, know that situations may arise that need your flexibility and consideration for the other party. Practicing good co-parenting and effective communication will help you get through pressing situations while sharing parental responsibilities.

Communicate with Your Employer

If you can work from home and supervise your kids, managing an unexpected school closure will be significantly easier. However, not every parent is able to do so and taking off work can be difficult, so it is best to talk with your boss or team ahead of time. Explaining your needs and clarifying what your expectations are to your work, as well as your co-parent, can reduce the potential for conflicts in the future.

Be Aware of Meal Programs

Families that face food insecurity are facing a significant concern in ensuring their children are fed during this long-term school closure. Many rely on school-provided meals to ensure their children have access to proper nutrition.

If you or someone you know of is worried about putting meals on the table, know that there are food banks across Michigan ready to help. Food banks also need donations.


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