I’m one of the millions of parents with the daunting task of deciding how my children will learn in the 2020-21 school year.
Our school district gave us three options:
- Hybrid: Students will be split into two groups. Group A would go to school Monday/Tuesday and Group B would go Thursday/Friday. The days kids weren’t in the building would be distance learning days. Wednesdays would be a deep-cleaning day and teachers would use the day for professional development, coordinating lessons, and “office hours” to speak with parents.
- 100% Distance Learning: Our superintendent said several times that this wouldn’t be “virtual” learning because of the number of kids in the county who do not have internet access. Teachers would need to figure out other ways of getting materials to kids. Plus, he knew it wasn’t good for students to be on the computer for hours at a time.
- Pull your kid out and homeschool.
None of these options felt quite right. But going back to pre-COVID19 school definitely wasn’t.
The night the school board voted on these options, they also voted to make the first quarter of the school year virtual. To address equity issues, a few schools in parts fo the county that do not have internet access will open. No instruction will take place; students will be able to sit in a building to do their work vs a car.
Parents had to submit our decisions last week, and I know I don’t have to justify anything, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts leading up to it. Both for posterity’s sake and in case it might help someone else.
Spring was a mess
There was no consistency when it came to how information was presented to us. Would I get assignments at 9am or 10:30? We were told that work wasn’t graded, but then the music teacher appeared on a Google Meet and made us feel otherwise.
G did fine with Crisis Learning; he was quick to figure out Google Meet and was good about doing his work (though he rushed so he could get back to playing sooner).
L…L was a different story. He’s never been one to do work when I ask him to; he does much better in a classroom away from me. It’s always been like that with him. Plus, his speech regressed because he wasn’t in a classroom working on reading and listening to others speak. Wondering if he might need to repeat a year if we keep him home weighs heavily on me.
I don’t know a single teacher who feels safe teaching in-person
Not wanting to return to work due to safety reasons does NOT mean not wanting to work. Sometimes I think we’re missing that mark during the return to school discussion. All of my teacher friends want to get back to teaching their students in-person, but they don’t feel safe. We might think our kids are angels and will follow the rules, but it’s a different story once they enter the school building. Teachers see it. They know it. But they feel left out of the conversations being had about teaching in a classroom during a pandemic.
We have defunded education for decades, leaving school buildings with outdated HVAC systems and overcrowded classrooms. Teachers have to buy their own supplies and depend on donations because their counties can’t even supply them with copy paper.
I mean, if we don’t have enough PPE in the country to supply our doctors and nurses, do we really have enough to supply our teachers and students who forget their mask (or need a new one because theirs got dirty/wet?).
The death rate doesn’t bother me; it’s the response to a positive case
I keep hearing that kids don’t die from this. I keep hearing that the flu is more deadly.
But what are we telling people to do if they test positive? Quarantine for two weeks. What are we telling people if they have been in close contact with an infected person? Quarantine for two weeks.
If a teacher gets sick, then a substitute will need to be brought in. That means kids are going to have to adjust to a new style of teaching. And for how long? Back in March, it was assumed you’d be feeling better in two weeks. Now, more and more people are speaking out about their experiences and telling us that they’re taking longer than that to recover.
Depending on the situation, an entire class/school might have to stay home and be quarantined. Learning can still continue online, but it’ll mean scrambling to find childcare and rearrange schedules so parents can help with education.
How often would this happen? I have no idea, but it’s a real possibility that it would happen more than once during the school year. As someone who doesn’t like abrupt changes (like March), this unknown would constantly be nagging me.
My family will only be as safe as the least safe person
Sending my kids back into the classroom means that everything we have been practicing since March will be moot. We’ve stressed mask-wearing and that won’t matter. We’ve stressed staying six feet apart from anyone outside of our home and that won’t matter.
We haven’t gone on vacation, but we know people that have. We haven’t eaten inside restaurants, but we know people that have. We’ve worn masks and painted them in a positive light, but we know people who think they’re useless.
And it isn’t just a classmate’s family I’d be concerned with. Some of my teacher friends are participating in activities I’m uncomfortable with right now as well. What will my kids’ teachers be doing on the weekends? We know adults can spread the virus.
Our national response to this pandemic has been horrible
I had hoped we’d have a national response to fight COVID-19. Instead, we seem to be fighting each other.
We could have taken what we learned from the Spanish Flu pandemic and applied what worked then to what we’re experiencing now. We could have looked to other countries as a blueprint to flatten our curve. But no.
The lack of leadership shows in the way of case numbers, deaths, and over-run hospitals. Not only in the country as a whole but in individual states as well.
Infected individuals have gotten younger
It really wasn’t that long ago that we were told the elderly needed to stay home.
Then we were told that people in their 40s and 50s needed to be more careful.
Then people in their 30s seemed to stump medical professionals.
Two weeks ago our governor went on TV to remind young adults in their 20s to stay vigilant because cases in their age group were rising.
As of today (July 30, 2020), the group in Virginia with the most cases so far is 20-29, followed by mine (30-39).
Now, the elderly are definitely higher risk for dying; data undeniably points to that, but I kept coming back to my point about our reaction to a positive case. Who makes up people ages 20-39? College students (student teachers and interns). The workforce. Parents. Teachers. It doesn’t matter if our kids don’t get sick or can’t spread it when the adults responsible for their education, care, and wellbeing aren’t there or are too sick to be there for them.
Four months ago we were told that older people were most at risk. But this summer has proved that might not be the case. Who is to say that we’ll open schools back up and realize that kids aren’t as immune as people want to believe?
Protecting my kids means protecting myself
I have no idea how COVID-19 would affect me. Would I get an extremely mild case or would I need to go to the hospital for oxygen? Who would take our kids to school? Who would help with schoolwork? A hospital stay of any length is a disruption; Mr Boots would need to stay home, requiring him to stake time off work — something he doesn’t have the PTO for. And what if Mr Boots and I both get too sick to care for our kids? Everyone we’d trust to care for them are either elderly, have pre-existing conditions, or want nothing to do with this virus.
And people in my age group have died. It’s a minimal chance, but I can’t be there for my kids if I’m dead.
How much fun would my kids really have at school?
Wearing a mask most of the day. Possibly not getting recess. Having to stay seated at a desk most of the day. Not getting to work in small groups. A teacher whose face they can’t read. Not getting to sit next to their friend for story or circle time. If they got to eat in the cafeteria, having to eat six feet away from their friends at lunch.
Is that any better than being stuck at home where my kids can move around and eat meals together?
This is a new virus
We are learning new things about COVID-19 on a frequent basis and we could have so much to learn over the next year, and beyond. What are the long-term effects on the body? Are kids really as immune as we believe? How long do antibodies last (right now the longest suggestion I’ve read is six months).
I’m a stay-at-home-mom, I could keep them home
I acknowledge my privilege here. Keeping my kids home keeps us in the bubble we have created. It would also make it a little safer for teachers and other students. I could keep the boys home and not feel horrible if an outbreak was traced back to our family (Mr Boots works in hospitals after all, and we continue to go to routine medical appointments).
I mean, I don’t want to keep them home. I’d much much MUCH rather my kids be at school, even for a day or two. The idea of keeping an eye on a rising first and third grader as they do schoolwork while chasing a toddler around isn’t how I want to spend my week. I haven’t had a break since February and I’m struggling. But….I wanted to stay home so I could be there when/if my kids needed me. Like, say, during a pandemic.
As I watched our district’s school board meetings (hours and HOURS of them), I began a list of Pros and Cons for sending my kids back into the classroom. As I listened to speakers voice their opinions and written statements from teachers being read, my Con side became pretty full. It also drove home how heartbreakingly impossible it is to come up with a solution to Return to School that truly benefits ALL students.
Our decision ultimately came down to this:
We had to make a decision before our most important questions could be answered.
I needed to know if masks would be enforced for my rising third-grader, and how. I needed to know if meals would be eaten in the classroom. I needed to know if my kids would be in a classroom with desks three or six feet apart. I needed to know the steps and precautions they are going to take to keep my food allergy kid safe. Would my kids get recess? Would windows be open, possibly triggering L’s asthma? I wanted to know just how old the school’s HVAC system is.
Our school board members also had specific questions and the answer was nearly always this: schools need to know how many students plan to return to the classroom before details can be figured out. Even our principal emailed us to say she didn’t have the answers to the questions other parents had been asking, essentially asking parents to please stop emailing her.
If I don’t have information to make an informed decision, then I can’t in good faith send my kids back into the building. We opted for 100% Distance Learning for the 2020-21 academic year.
This is NOT what I wanted.
When parents were asked to take a survey back in June, we were hoping to choose a hybrid option. I love the hybrid plan our district decided on. But, the more I listened to teachers and the more I watched the cases in Virginia, the more I felt uncomfortable with that option. I listened to the school board meetings and came away feeling that at the end of the day, our district does not have enough money to do what is really needed to keep their teachers and students safe.
The decision wasn’t made lightly. I’ve agonized over it. I’ve second-guessed myself since submitting it. I’m questioning how much I’m hurting my kids socially and emotionally since they’ve rarely seen anyone outside ourselves since March. We don’t have a “pod” of like-minded people to hang out with and their sports/activities have been canceled or shut down.
But now that our decision has been submitted? A certain weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I can begin preparing for my kids to learn at home. I don’t need to worry about sudden changes because we’ve found ourselves going from Phase 3 to Phase 2 or have been told to quarantine. If it’s truly awful, then we can ask to be moved to the hybrid option for the second half of the year.
Nothing about school in the 2020-21 academic year will be the same. It won’t matter if our kids go back in-person five days a week, or two, or stay home. Every choice we’ve been given carries a risk of some sort. At the end of the day, you have to make the choice that is best for your family. That’s not going to look the same as mine. There is absolutely no good option this year.
Earlier in the week, I watched this video by a pediatrician. In it, she talks about making the decision on what to do about school in the fall. It resonated with me and made me realize my anxiety over this is really due to the unknown. No one can know the future.
Still. I honestly hate this for all of us.