School closure is one of the most debated measures undertaken to contain the spread of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The pandemic has devastating health and socio-economic effects and must be contained, but schools play a vital role in present and future well-being, capabilities and health of children. We examine the detrimental consequences of both the closure and reopening of schools, by focusing on inequalities in the challenges affecting children and their families. This paper is grounded on Irish and Italian data from a multi-national longitudinal qualitative interview study. Research participants articulated a variety of issues and challenges that highlight inequalities in access to education during school closures, in the supportiveness of home setting, and in school preparedness to reopen, often mirroring or exacerbating pre-existing inequalities. The reported unequal lived experiences indicate that some harms are actionable, and already suggest some potential harm mitigation strategies. We conclude by advocating for enhanced public consultation to help mitigate the consequences of public dilemmas in general, and to help detect and tackle inadequacies and inequalities for school children through and beyond the pandemic, by learning from the experience of the concerned actors.