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These parents won’t let kids return to school until there’s a coronavirus vaccine


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Sahina Islam’s daughters — 7-year-old twins and a 4-year-old who attend PS 24 in Flushing — would normally be cheerfully looking forward to starting new grades and throwing themselves into their favorite art and music classes in the fall, but their mother isn’t taking any chances.

The 30-year-old biochemist-turned-stay-at-home-mom is joining an increasing number of parents rethinking their back-to-school strategy until a safe and proven vaccine is found for the coronavirus.

Even if Gov. Andrew Cuomo reopens schools as hoped in September, Islam won’t return her girls to PS 24, opting instead to teach the children herself after enrolling them in homeschooling.

“It seems the safest thing to do until the vaccine is out and shown to be effective for kids,” she tells The Post. “With the rate of infection and the ability for folks to be re-infected, we don’t want to take the risk.”

Islam and her husband, Dr. Choudhury Hasan, 34, a front-line physician, even have plans to build a swimming pool in their backyard so they can more easily check off the physical education component of homeschooling.

Legal requirements for homeschooling vary from state to state, but in New York, among other strict rules, parents must notify the superintendent of their school district, compose and file individualized instruction plans, and turn in quarterly progress reports.

By comparison, New Jersey takes a much more hands-off approach. Those who keep their kids out of school must provide “equivalent instruction,” but there are no regulations regarding parent qualifications, time spent teaching, testing or bookkeeping.

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Asha Abraham, 43, of Old Bridge, NJ, is another parent strongly considering keeping

her sons, Nathanial, 13, and 11-year-old Daniel, away from the town’s Carl Sandburg MS until a vaccine is available.

“How do you prevent infection in the close environs of a school?” says Abraham, the owner of a Manhattan-based cybersecurity firm who hopes to juggle the demands of her job with homeschooling. “We are from South India, where there is a huge emphasis on academics and education. But I would rather have my kids alive than educated at this point.”

Abraham and her husband, Thomas, 46, are particularly worried about recent news concerning the spread of the mysterious Kawasaki-like condition affecting children. It is known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, and has been linked to the coronavirus.

“It’s scary because they are still figuring out what’s going on with that,” says Abraham, who notes that both her boys have allergies and asthma and are “considered high-risk for COVID-19.”

Epidemiologist Kumi Smith, of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, agrees there is uncertainty over MIS-C, but points out that the condition is rare.

“Even though there have been reports of pretty severe illness among kids related to COVID-19, the morbidity rate is

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really a low number,” says the expert.

As for parents considering homeschooling, Smith sounds a note of caution.

“Kids’ safety is important,” she says, “but you also have to balance that with the family’s well-being, mental health and working parents’ ability to multitask.”

That’s especially important since the FDA approval of a vaccine could be a long way off.

“Even a 12- to 18-month timeline is highly accelerated and unprecedented,” says Smith.

She knows it’s not a panacea, but a vaccine would do much to quell the fears of Ceceilia Parnther, of Jamaica, Queens, who is also considering home-schooling her older daughters, Leila, 10, and 8-year-old Maya.

“I can’t help but worry about the critical mass of children at Leila and Maya’s school, because there is a high ratio of students to teachers,” says the 39-year-old assistant professor, who also has a 2-year-old named Norah.

Ceceilia and Anthony Parnther with their daughters, Leila, Maya and Norah.
Ceceilia and Anthony Parnther with their daughters, Leila, Maya and Norah.Polaris

Together with her engineer husband, Anthony, 40, Parnther has been researching home-schooling options as an alternative to sending their older girls back to PS 131 in Jamaica Hills for the new academic year.

For her, the ideal solution could be a “hybrid model” of education in which some classes are taught in-person and others employ the same distance-learning plans used since New York City schools were closed on March 17.

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“Maybe there could be some kind of compromise, with staggered start times and other efforts to lower numbers in the classrooms,” suggests Parnther.

Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week issued guidelines for schools reopening, which include the wearing of masks, closing playgrounds and having one-way signs in the hallways to enable some measure of social distancing.

But Parnther can’t imagine how the guidelines can be effectively implemented, “especially at high-density schools like the one my children attend.”

For many parents, however, the thought of home-schooling until a vaccine becomes available is anathema.

Among them is White Plains, NY-based businesswoman Kristen Ritvanen, who is keen to see her three children back within the four walls of school this fall.

“I am not interested in home-schooling them if they have the opportunity to go back [when] school reopenings have been agreed [on] and sanctioned by the government and health officials,” says the 51-year-old.

She claims her older son, Sean, 18, and 16-year-old daughter, Shannon, need to attend a physical location for their “mental, physical and social health.” Meanwhile, her 3 ½-year-old son, Zane, who has an individualized education plan, requires face-to-face interaction for sessions such as speech and occupational therapy.

But she doesn’t blame parents like Parnther, Abraham and Islam for their plans to home-school this September.

“I’m not a rush-back-to-normal person,” Ritvanen says. “I appreciate that it comes down to personal choice.”

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