There Are No Great Options: Going Back to School During a Pandemic

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Pull your kid out and homeschool.

None of these options felt quite right. But going back to pre-COVID19 school definitely wasn’t.

apple sitting on top of books on a desk Going Back to School During a Pandemic facebook image via muddy boots and diamonds blog

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.

Fine.

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.

Homeschool

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.

Chalk drawing of Earth with words Choose Kind written above via muddybootsanddiamonds.com

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.

 

Sharpened Pencils in wire Pencil Holder School During a Pandemic pinterest image via muddybootsanddiamonds.com

 

Looking for some homeschool tips and ideas? Check out my Homeschool board on Pinterest!

I’m a Mommy Blogger: Parenting is Political

I grew up in a very divided household when it came to politics. The fights my parents would get into over presidential candidates is still something that sticks with me. I grew up wanting to avoid politics as much as possible.

That changed in 2015. When I found out that a bully was moving into the White House, I became vocal.

I’ve tried over and over again to give our current president the benefit of the doubt, but over and over again, he has shown us who he is. He’s a bully. He’s racist. He does not care about anyone but himself.

I cannot stress that last sentence enough.

I am a mommy blogger and parenting is political pinterest image via muddybootsanddiamonds.com

Leading up to November 2015, I applied for blogging campaigns that asked: “Do you talk about politics on your platform? Please explain.”

I hated that question. I felt brands were looking for influencers answering “no” so they could remain apolitical.

I couldn’t say “no.”

I’m a mommy blogger and parenting is political.

Parenting is political when there is a possibility of bully becoming President of the United States. Aren’t I supposed to be teaching my kids that bullies are bad and they don’t win?

Parenting is political when politicians refuse to listen to scientists on ways to keep citizens safe.

Parenting is political when a group of politicians wants to rescind the ACA, which protects kids with pre-existing conditions, provides breast pumps to mothers and allows for allergy testing.

Parenting is political when politicians won’t pass common-sense gun legislation to protect our children in schools.

Parenting is political when our kids don’t have clean water to drink.

Parenting is political when food labeling regulations are changed by the FDA and we no longer trust the food we feed our kids with food allergies.

Parenting is political when bills that have passed with bipartisan support in Congress pile up without discussion in the Senate. Legislation that includes an increase the minimum wage, which would make it easier for parents to provide for their families and background checks on firearms, which can prevent child deaths.

Parenting is political when families don’t know how they will pay their bills or put food on the table because lawmakers cannot agree on how to fund a wall.

Parenting is political when the President of the United States threatens to withhold federal funding from school districts that do not fully re-open in the midst of a poorly-handled pandemic.

There’s more. Godfuckingdammnit, there’s so much more I could add.

Every time I see a well-known parenting blogger speak up about injustices, someone is quick to say “stick to kids, I like you better when you aren’t political.”

But how can you not be political when policies are being put in place that harm children?

You can’t. At least it doesn’t seem like it here in America.

I grew up wanting to avoid getting involved in politics. But as long as people pass laws that hurt children and their families, I can’t avoid it.

Parenting is political. Becoming a mom taught me that.

Mom wearing Raising Future Voters baseball shirt
I’m selling these shirts. You can find them in my Etsy and Redbubble stores.

The Silver Linings of Crisis Schooling in a Pandemic

As I said a few weeks ago, life got turned upside down for EVERYONE. I think the toughest change for my family has been school. I’ve seen the new way of educating called different things: distance learning, quarantine schooling, homeschooling, and (my personal favorite) crisis schooling.

It doesn’t really matter what you call it; nothing about school is normal right now. It’s been hard on everyone here, and I could rant a lot about it.

The heaviness of the entire pandemic situation hit me last week. I realized that the longer our Stay at Home Order goes on, the more I need to try and find the good in the tough. So as much as I could talk shit about crisis schooling, there are actually a few good things about it.

School Supplies Scattered on a Table via muddybootsanddiamonds.com

The Silver Linings of Crisis Schooling

I don’t have to wake up early to prepare lunches

The boys’ lunch boxes have been tucked in a cabinet since March 13. Those lunches that may or may not have gotten eaten. Those lunches packed in reusable containers that took over our counter space and drying racks every day. I don’t miss it!!

Heck, I don’t have to wake up early*!

G and L became fairly self-sufficient when I was recovering from my c-section last year. Now that I don’t have to get up earlier to make school lunches, I can hit the snooze button a time or two before getting ready for the day. 

*This is if J doesn’t wake up too early, though he’s pretty good about not screaming until about 7/7:30 am now!

I don’t have to worry about school shootings.

Every morning when I have said goodbye to my kids at the bus stop or school drop off, I say a silent prayer that I’ll see them again at the end of the day. I hate the feeling of sending them off to school after a rough morning — what if I never see them again? It shouldn’t take a pandemic to keep students and educators safe from gun violence.

I don’t have to worry about allergic reactions.

Having a child with a food allergy — and a young one at that — means putting a lot of faith into someone you barely know to keep them safe at school. I take the time at the beginning of the year to go over L’s allergy but there is still room for error. Kids are mean, and there’s the worry that someone using peanuts as a way to bully L.

I’m not stressing over food-centric parties and projects.

It’s hard to convey the stress of food in the classroom to non-food allergy parents. I loved it when classmates brought in homemade cupcakes for birthdays or we were asked to bring special treats for end-of-the-year parties. As a food allergy mom, I am trying to educate teachers on why M&Ms are not safe for peanut-allergic kids and running around to multiple stores to find safe foods that are similar to what is being used in lesson plans or being brought in for a special treat.

My kids are sitting around less.

The boys are running around outside and moving from one room to the next to play. I also make them help out around the house. I don’t know how much sitting they do in a day at school, but I’m sure they’re doing less of it now. 

My kids are outside more.

I mean, I have to force them outside most days, but they’re outside playing more than they are when they’re in school. It helped that G had a well-visit recently; our NP told him he had to play outside at least an hour every day. When I remind him of that, he’s a little more willing to stop playing LEGOs and find something to do outdoors.

The teachers are teaching me as well!

Before Distance Learning took effect, G’s teacher made videos so the kids could review what they learned before school let out. She also took the time to explain emotions and how everyone might be feeling being stuck at home. One week she explained anger. I HAD NOT FELT SO SEEN IN WEEKS!

I don’t have to worry about attendance.

We’ve still been going to medical appointments — allergy shots, well visits, and orthodontist appointments. While I still have to coordinate with Mr Boots’ schedule, I don’t have to stress out over missed days or early check-outs. It’s been a little wild to realize that I can schedule appointments pretty much whenever I want to at the moment! And if my kid is sick we can makeup schoolwork later in the week when the load is lighter.

close up of pencil holder with pencils, pens, green scissors via muddybootsanddiamonds.com

I know some of these silver linings are selfish. I realize some come from a place of privilege as well. And when I sit back and reflect on this post, it sounds like I’ve successfully put my kids in a bubble. Deep down I don’t want that. I want my kids to learn how to work with others. I want them to foster relationships with classmates. I want them to explore and experience the world outside their backyard!

This too shall pass and it helps to know families around the country (world) are experiencing similar situations.

What silver linings of crisis schooling due the pandemic have you found?

boy-glasses-headphones-looking-at-computer-Silver Linings of Distance Learning During A Pandemic Pinterest Graphic via muddybootsanddiamonds.com

Dear Baby J: ONE Year Old

Dear Baby J,

YOU ARE ONE YEAR OLD NOW!

I’m struggling with what to write today because it’s all bittersweet. You’re still my baby, but not really a baby. You took off walking a day or two shy of your first birthday, and now it’s mostly how you get anywhere now. There’s something about watching you toddle around that makes you look much older. 

Your first year ended the same as it began: stuck at home. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world to shut down a bit. It took me so long to feel up to taking you out after you were born, that I feel like we’ve been stuck at home for a year with no end in sight. Now that you’re walking, we’re getting the back yard ready for more opportunities for you to play safely. Hopefully, that helps.

The pandemic closed schools, so you’re having a real lesson in patience as I try to help your brothers with their school work. You love being part of their Google Meets or L’s Zoom meeting with his speech therapist and get upset when I take you away from the computer.

I think you know something is different due to the pandemic. Maybe you can sense my anxiety. Suddenly, your brothers are doing school at home. Daddy is home random days some weeks. We are still figuring out a solid routine, and I think you do better when you have one. Sleep has gotten better, but if one thing is different about your day (even Daddy being home) then it throws your nap schedule off. You’ve also become a lot more cuddly with me since we started social distancing.

You have no fear. I’ve sat back and watched you climb onto the coffee table and couch by yourself using toys as step-stools. Now that you’re walking, you move around much more quietly. Sometimes I won’t hear you enter a room. You’re much more curious than your brothers were at this age and are getting into drawers, bins, and attempting the kitchen cabinets. Daddy went around the first floor of the house and replaced outlets with childproof ones because you figured out how to remove the outlet covers.

Your first birthday wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I was looking forward to a party with family and friends who have helped us out over the last twelve months. Instead, we threw you a mini-family-centered party. We FaceTimed and Skyped with relatives. I made you your own cake and decorated the house a little. We opened gifts that relatives mailed since we couldn’t see them in person. You knew the day was all about you though and loved the attention — whether it was in person or on a screen. You’re a ham in front of cameras!

You’re still working on a bottom tooth. I had expected it to emerge when one of your others did back in February, but it’s taking its sweet time! The NP we saw for your one year well check said your molars are beginning to work their way up as well.

At that visit you were 22lbs. You’re healthy and developing on track. You’re wearing 18-month clothes and should be getting your first pair of shoes tomorrow!

You’re keeping me on my toes and I can’t wait to see what this next year is going to be like. I love you so much, Baby J!

Love,
Mommy

Letters to My Children: Baby J Turns ONE Year Old pinterest graphic

Cheers to Us: This Pandemic Thing Sucks

I thought about writing a post about activities to do with your kids. About writing a post sharing the supplies and resources I’m using to homeschool my kids. Or the games and toys my kids are using now that they’re home from school for the remainder of the academic year.

But the truth is…

I don’t have the mental capacity for it right now.

Last week I shared the Social Distancing Journal with you. I created that over the boys’ spring break — Week 1 of social distancing when I had an “I got this” attitude about being home all day and homeschooling.

Reality set in at the end of Week 3 and I began to crack. This Sucks. We’ve all been thrown a curveball due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our kids are out of school. We’ve become teachers. Therapy has moved from in-person to some form of video chat. Daycare is reserved for essential workers. We’ve been told we shouldn’t go anywhere unless it is essential. 

I am overwhelmed.

Boy distance learning on computer with baby pointing to computer via muddybootsanddiamonds.com

I’m getting suggestions from too many people.

In a day I will receive suggested learning activities or questions for my kids to answer from: their teacher, the PE teacher, the art teacher, the librarian, the music teacher, and — in the case of my 2nd Grader — the gifted and talented teacher. Times that by two and that’s… about 11 times my phone goes off to let me know one of them has something to offer their students. (And no, I’m not changing the alert; that’s the ONLY way I can remember to check in with the school at this point.)

Teachers are not the only ones offering up suggestions to “help” me out with my kids.

My mom and mother-in-law seem concerned that we lack toys and games to keep our three boys occupied. They are worried the kids are bored so they keep texting and emailing me suggestions and ideas.

We’ve got 5.4860 billion toys/books/activities my kids can do; they just need to look around. They’re bored of being suck in the same place with the same people nearly 24/7. But they most definitely don’t lack things to do.

My husband is an essential worker.

He works for a commercial HVAC company that works on projects for area hospitals. You know what one of the projects he and his co-workers have been working on? Converting hospital rooms into anti-pressure isolation rooms. This is going on in the hardest-hit county in the state of Virginia. As soon as they complete a room, a patient is put inside it. He’s walking the same halls as COVID patients. The stress and worry about our family coming down with COVID-19 is constantly on my mind. Every day I waver between two extremes: feeling like we’ll be okay and believing we’re all going to die.

My brain is full of questions.

Are my worries and anxiety showing too much? Am I explaining the virus in a child-friendly way? How much are my kids going to regress from not being in school (L has signs of speech regression)? How much is being away from friends affecting them? Am I doing enough schoolwork with them? What will happen if one of us has to go to the hospital? Am I being too hard on myself? How much am I going to screw up my kids throughout all this?

And let’s not forget I’m still struggling with an almost-one-year-old who hates sleep and is a LOT more curious than either of his two brothers combined.

Even though I knew a Stay at Home Order was coming, I’m in a bit of shock over what reality is right now. Here in our house, we’re grieving over what we are missing out on over the next few months. We’re processing what our schools and employers are expecting of us. We are trying to work on a new normal based on trial and error. 

It’s overwhelming for me. I can’t wander off by myself to process what’s happening because at any given moment someone wants me for something. Right now I just want to know what the bare minimum I have to do because my brain is having a hard time handling the Extra.

I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. How many of you don’t have the mental capacity to even try to find the supplies for a craft project, let alone help your kids with one? How many of you will scream if someone suggests One. More. Activity to do with your kids because you don’t have enough hours in the day between work and homeschool?

I’ll eventually get around to sharing what’s working for us during this unique moment in history. Maybe even a science experiment or recipe. But not today.

Today, I’m writing to acknowledge that this sucks. It’s scary and it sucks.

I’m raising you my mug of now-cold coffee in solidarity instead.

Cheers to us!

This pandemic thing sucks.