Coronavirus update: Back to school

By Jon Hyman

Aug. 24, 2020

Today is my kids’ first day of school. Not virtual school. Not distanced learning. Not a hybrid model. In-person school. I just returned home from dropping them off for their respective first day of high school and middle school.

We are blessed to have the resources to send our kids to small, independent private school that is uniquely positioned to open for full-time in person learning in the midst of a pandemic. With approximately 400 students in the entire school across grades K-12, class sizes are already naturally small. With a 93-acre campus, many classes will be held outside. With no cafeteria, lunch time is greatly simplified. It’s the perfect school to educate in-person while we live with COVID-19. And it has a great plan to keep my kids, the rest of the students, and its faculty and staff as healthy and safe as reasonably possible.

But this will be a different school year. Everyone will be masked. There will be no interscholastic sports. Certain classes have to be modified. For example, my daughter was accepted into its School of Fine Arts as musical theater major, yet there won’t be any group singing for the foreseeable future. And for the school year, my wife and I will be the bus (something made easier by the fact that we are both working from home, as the school is 25 minutes from home in the opposite direction of both of our workplaces).

Which brings me to the point for today’s post. This school year will require all employers to be flexible, understanding, and empathetic. Gone are the days when parents will be able to send kids who wake up with a cough to school. Employees will have children at home with them, who will need varying degrees of support and hand holding through the work/school day. Employees will serve as transportation to and from school. Employees will have to drop everything when the school calls to let them know that a child is ill, or when a sick child is at home or, worse, hospitalized. Many schools that are open close during the school year.

Those employers who provide nimbleness and compassion will have an engaged and thankful workforce. Those who only offer rigidity and animosity will foster resentment and lose employees. I know which type of employer I want to be and for which I’d want to work. Be that employer.

As for me, I hope this is the only first-day-of-school when my kids’ smiling faces are hidden behind COVID masks.

Finally, today I was going to write a treatise of the legal issues back-to-school raise in a COVID world, but my friend Jeff Nowak beat me to it at his FMLA Insights blog. I cannot more highly recommend his thoroughly excellent post on this topic.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at

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