By my last count, it has been 136 days since my children entered a school building. We muddled our way through our first round of pandemic online schooling. Now we are facing the 20-21 school year wondering how it will look and what methods are best amidst an ever present pandemic. Educators and parents alike are facing impossible choices and anxiety ridden decisions. What is the right decision for our children for the coming school year?
No One Size Fits All Solution
As information is shared and people offer their insight, it becomes perfectly clear to me there is not a one size fits all solution. Not all families are the same. All children do not learn the same. School systems are operating on different budgets with different resources. Educators have differing experience with online platforms and educational tools. The list of variables is endless. It is not possible to develop a solution that will make EVERYONE happy. And yet that is what we expect from our educators and administrators; a solution that makes everyone happy and keeps everyone learning and engaged. I do not envy our schools during this very difficult time.
Our Top Concerns
I firmly believe that our top concern is the safety and security of our children. No less important is the safety and security of our teachers and school staff. During a time of global health concerns, we need to ensure that we are doing everything humanly possible to keep people healthy. So then the question becomes can we keep the school environment safe and what does that entail? The logistics are mind numbing. Keeping the building clean and materials sanitized is more than a full time job. When I start listing all that will need to be done, it becomes clear that schools will need to hire more maintenance staff just to keep up. Which leads to another question – can we find and hire the needed staff in time?
Keep Them Safe, But Not Traumatized
As I read through documents listing requirements to ensure student and teacher safety, my head started swimming. I honestly said, “Have these people ever come in contact with small children?” The expectations seem over the top when in black in white. Which begs the question, what will it look like in the real world? One of my key concerns is to keep school a safe and comfortable place. My children LOVE their school. The 136 days away from their school community has been long and lonely for my kiddos. I do not want school to become a harsh and scary place. Will masks, social distancing, constant hand washing, and less freedom to move about the school ruin their sense of community?
The Logistics of It All
I am the queen of logistics, so how do we make all this work in the real world. Children do not naturally social distance. Masks are something to touch, play with, and lose. Are we putting our teachers into a position where all they do is handle behavior and safety protocols all day? This does not sound like an optimal way to ensure learning occurs. Another huge concerns of mine, is what do we do when the first person tests positive for COVID-19? The logistics of this nightmare seem hard to fathom. How many teachers and students are quarantined for 14 days with one positive test? Can we smoothly transition those students out of the classroom and 100% online? If a teacher is sick, who takes over? How do we keep continuity for all the students affected? I do not have answers, nor do I envy the people who need to make these plans and decisions.
What I Want for My Kids
In my perfect world, my kiddos would go back to the classroom in a limited capacity, splitting their time between the classroom and online learning at home. This hybrid approach will give them the face to face instruction and community they desperately need, but keep class size small and allow extra time for school sanitizing. I did not come to this decision easily. Our experience pandemic schooling gave me a great deal of insight into my children’s learning styles and their ability to learn at home.
My Kids in a Nutshell
My oldest has ADHD and being limited to life on a computer did not go well. The majority of assignments did not hold her attention and trying to keep her engaged caused a lot of tension. My sweet middle child is a machine when it comes to work in the classroom, but wants to stop after five minutes at home. The distraction of the home setting led to lots of tension and bargaining around school tasks. The little man is amping up for his first full year of school. At this point he would be easiest to teach at home, but he is also the one with an IEP needing services I cannot give at home. As much as my anxiety would love to keep them home, the logic in me thinks it is important for them to spend at least 50% of their time in school.
What’s Next is Hard
As I scroll social media, I see tons of parents who seem 100% confident in their decisions for the Fall. Confidence in my decision is not where I currently fall. My reasons for unrest are abundant. Am I being selfish with my choice for in-school instruction? Are my children and their beloved teachers at too high a risk? Is my decision based on my children or the fact that I am not a homeschooler? Whose mental health and I really trying to protect? The fact is regardless of the decision I make, these thoughts will swirl my brain. Why? Because this is hard and certainty when the environment around you is constantly shifting is impossible. I can firmly plant my feet and make a decision and then that option can be taken away due to logistics or due to a state shutdown. Control at this time is an illusion that I do not choose to think I hold.
Judgement Free Zone
Can we all agree that in this difficult time in history we need a judgement free zone on parenting choices? It is NOT my job to critique your decisions in regards to your children. I am not walking in your shoes and I do not know the ins and outs of your world. Let us instead extend grace and empathy to other parents in our communities as we all manage HARD things. When I see harsh words like “You just want the school to babysit your kid!” my heart drops. In times of “normal” would you tell a parent who chooses to send their child to public school over homeschool they are using school as a babysitter? Quite the opposite, homeschoolers are attacked regularly for not “socializing” their children. We are quick to judge, without looking at all the nuances.
We have parents who are working outside the home, who facilitates online schooling for them? Parents who are full time working from home are not immune from these issues either. It is not sustainable to work full time, parent full time, and educate full time; something has to give. Do we expect day care providers to facilitate multiple online school platforms for multiple age levels day in and day out? Doesn’t seem sustainable to me. We have families whose children receive multiple IEP services, how do they receive those online?
We do not all live under the umbrella of a single reality. Every day we all make difficult choices. Every day we do our best. If I had to guess, there are a lot of people questioning if their best in enough. We also have people who are NOT at their best and just trying to survive through the unknown. If ever there was a time we all needed grace, today is the day.
Whatever Your Choice
Whatever your choice as the school year opens, I support your decisions. I know it was a difficult one to make. Your children are so lucky to have a parent like you. I am confident that we will make it to the other side of this pandemic with our sanity intact. Some day we will tell stories of how we survived. We will make hard choices and find new normal to get to the other side. The 20-21 school year is just one step along the journey. Deep breathes – we can make the RIGHT decisions for our children; one complicated decision at a time.