Mixed feelings about a return to school

The new school year is starting soon

Questions about returning to brick-and-mortar school for the 2020/2021 school year have been simmering for weeks. Some local colleges here in New York already announce that all fall classes will be online. Others New York colleges announced that most fall classes will be online.

My 2 younger children both attend the same high school, which ended in person classes back on March 12, I believe it was. I have been waiting for word about the plan for September. I certainly don’t envy the school administrators, who must abide by the decision of the state regarding school opening. Yesterday, I received an email from the school president read in part,

“… plan on opening with our usual five day/week full school day when classes resume in September. We will be taking all necessary and sensible precautions for maintaining the health of our students and staff. These include face coverings, social distancing, clear shields where needed, temperature checks, and regular deep sanitizing.

As we move closer to the beginning of the new school year, we will keep you abreast of the pertinent state and health authority guidelines and make modifications as needed. We are, of course, fully prepared to utilize online technology as the need arises.”

As schools plan to reopen across the nation, parents are asking themselves if it is better to send their children back to school and risk them getting coronavirus, or to keep them at home to do distance learning. If face-to-face school is in session, then doing anything other than that requires homeschooling and setting everything up on your own to comply with state requirements. Homeschooling is a serious undertaking – it’s not something that can be done on a whim.

Across the country

Some large school districts across the country have announced that they’ll be entirely virtual in the fall, or will use a hybrid model that has children in classrooms only a couple of days a week. My research into this subject this week has shown that 9 of the 15 largest school systems (based on enrollment) plan to start the fall semester entirely online.  Other districts are pushing back opening date, in hopes that the number of cases will decline. Or hoping to give teachers and administrators more time to plan for what is going to be a uniquely challenging school year.

ParentsTogether is a national, parent organization with over 2 million community members. Its mission is to “build a world where every child and family can thrive”. The membership is socio-economically and racially diverse. It includes parents from every state. The organization recently released a survey highlighting the impact the coronavirus crisis is having on families as they struggle with the decision of whether to send children back to school this fall. According to their survey, nearly half the parents say schools are not ready to reopen in the fall. One third say if schools re-open they will not send their kids, and an additional 11 percent say they’re unlikely to send their kids.

Some government officials have made proposals to link school funding to re-opening plans, and parents in this survey strongly opposed that idea. And, they were more than 3 times more likely to agree that “schools should remain closed until they are certain there is no health risk, even if it means students fall further behind” vs. agreeing that ”Schools should reopen as soon as possible so students don’t fall too far behind and can receive the educational support they need.”

Schools are so much more than reading, writing and arithmetic. Schools provide more than the academics to students – In addition to scholastic knowledge, students acquire social and emotional skills. They get exercise, which is increasingly important in our sedentary society. They have access to mental health support. Some kids depend on school to provide regular, healthy meals and access to the Internet.  Distance or online learning just can’t provide all of these things.

 Classroom changes

I don’t know how you take a classroom of 15 to 20 students and have them social distance. Many classes have more students then that, of course, which makes it even tougher. If you split the classes up to reduce class size, then there are not enough classroom for everybody, and not enough teachers to handle all the classes. I have read that some schools are considering:

  • Teaching some classes in person at school, and some classes online at home.
  • Splitting classes in half and having one half at a time in the classroom while the other half is learning at home … then switching roles every other day.
  • Having half the students come to the classrooms one week, and then the next week do learning at home.

To help limit student interaction outside the classroom, schools are considering:

  • Having teachers move between classrooms, rather than having students fill the hallways during passing periods.
  • Allowing students to eat lunches at their desks or in small groups outdoors instead of in crowded indoor cafeterias or lunchrooms.
  • Working out staggered or directional systems to control the flow of students in the hallways.
  • Leaving classroom doors open to help reduce contact with high touch surfaces such as doorknobs.

It’s all crazy and, quite honestly, it’s a nightmare situation. Remember the story of Typhoid Mary? Well, all it will take is a Coronavirus Carl or Covid Cara and the school potentially has a huge problem.

So, what happens now?

Coronavirus case numbers in New York are currently very low. And other parts of the country, those numbers are skyrocketing. It isn’t hard to see how easily the numbers here could spike up again, dramatically.

I am not an overly skittish person by nature. I can recognize that the statistical odds of one of my kids contracting this are pretty low right now. But there is a lot at stake. If one gets it, we are all probably going to get it. And since I am already very disabled by MS, it would be particularly dangerous for me.

Yet, I know that my kids need school. Academically, they did really well with online schooling, and their high school made a lot of effort to engage them in many ways. The social aspect of school, however, is also critical. We cannot give our children back this time in their lives. My kids are old enough to understand what they are supposed to do and why it is necessary to follow the new rules. I can only imagine how terribly difficult it is to get those points across to young children!

The statistical numbers are going to rule the day. We have to trust that the admonishments to “wear your mask and wash your hands, don’t touch your face and stay as far away from people as you can” really do get through – that this new way of life will have really become their way of life, and will keep us all safer.


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