We are quickly approaching the time of year for back to school shopping. For printing out the supply list and heading to Target to pick up the binders and notebooks, the pencils and all of the fresh supplies that mark the optimistic start of a new school year.
At least that’s the way it’s always been. The start of the school year is always filled with hope. September is a blank slate; it’s a fresh start for our kids. And it will be here before we know it.
But this year hope is hard to come by. This year the coming fall is filled with mounting anxiety and a sense of panic, especially for parents of school-aged kids.
It’s about what our kids our missing, to be sure. There’s sadness in that; in facing this scenario that we scarcely could have imagined. No schools? Not possible.
But the panic is another thing. What are we all supposed to do, now that the impossible is here?
We simply don’t know yet what we’re going to be facing in the fall. At least I don’t. Here we’re still waiting to hear our school district’s plan for reopening (or not opening, as the case may be).
We’re still waiting to find out if the kids are expected to go back to school in person, or continue the remote learning that we ended last school year with. Or will they settle on the “hybrid model” that we keep hearing about?
And if the kids go back in person, will they be 3 feet apart? Or 6 feet apart? Will they be wearing masks? How exactly is recess going to work?
Even if you’ve been given your district’s plan, it’s hard to really know what the fall will look like. We all know by now that you may very well start off in-person, only to find that October brings a surge of cases in your community, at which point all bets are off.
In a time when people are desperately seeking answers, it feels like the questions just keep on mounting.
I don’t blame the schools for this. I don’t blame the teachers for this, either.
This is a largely impossible situation that we’re asking our school administrators to figure out. It will simply not be possible to make everyone happy. More likely than not, most families are going to be distressed by any plan pitched under these circumstances.
Anger at our government for not being more proactive about the pandemic in the first place? That feels justified. But anger at the third grade teacher who is nervous to step back into the classroom? That feels misplaced.
For me and many of my fellow parents, it’s nearly impossible not to feel anxiety and dread. How are people supposed to work? (And for everyone who is accusing parents of “just using the schools for daycare” – well, the truth is parents rightfully expect that their childcare is covered during school hours. And why wouldn’t we expect that? It’s literally always been the case. People count on it, as it’s something that can normally be counted on. That doesn’t make parents lazy, or entitled. It makes them people with jobs, and nobody to watch the kids).
In a recent Politico article, economist Betsey Stevenson points out that in the course of the pandemic, the government “gave less money to the entire child care sector than we gave to one single airline, Delta.” Something seems a bit out of whack when our federal government allocates funds that way, no?
So you can forgive parents for feeling flustered and, yes, angry at an ongoing child care shortage in a country that has never properly supported working parents to begin with.
Beyond the logistical nightmare of school re-openings and stress of child-care shortages, there are ethical questions as we approach the first semester of what’s looking like a chaotic year ahead.
One question that’s recently caught my attention – is it more ethical to keep your child home, assuming you’re able to do so with (relative) ease? The more parents who could opt for that, the less density in any given classroom. But what if your child really misses school and wants to go back?
Another sticky question – is it the right choice to un-enroll your child to homeschool them, knowing that the school will then lose funding? The schools are already in financial dire straights. What will that choice do to your local school, especially if it’s a choice made by large numbers of parents?
And then there are the “Pandemic Pods” that are popping up left and right. Families with the most resources are teaming up and recruiting on-the-fly educational teams, creating mini schools within the walls of their protected homes. But where does that leave all of the children who do not now, and will not ever, have access to that sort of advantage?
The other day I read a comment about how the worry over your child falling behind is unfounded, because everyone else will also be falling behind. That seems at least partly true on the face of it, but to suggest that kids will be falling behind at equal rates is farcical.
If you have one kid without so much as internet access, and another kid whose wealthy parents are hiring a private teacher to homeschool a “pod” in the fall, you’re not even in the ballpark of apples to apples in terms of “behind-ness” here. This pandemic is not the great equalizer; it’s the great widener between the haves and have nots.
At the same time, can you really blame families for trying to do what’s best for their own children? It’s understandable, especially in a situation that is not of their own making. All parents, wealthy and poor alike, want their kids to be educated in the fall. Only some have the means to make that happen effectively.
(And as a side note, is it really a great thing if all the kids are falling behind? Is that supposed to be reassuring for the future of our country that we will have an entire generation of kids with major gaps in their education?)
These various ethical issues were not even on my radar until a few weeks ago. I’ve just been trying to survive the summer like everyone else. But now they are front of mind. I want to make the right decisions for my family. I want to be a good community member. Will those things be mutually exclusive? I don’t know yet.
The entire scope of this situation has been hitting me hard lately.
In my own family, I’m scrambling to figure out if there’s a way I can make our currently unfinished basement habitable enough to use as a one-room “school” for my first grader, and perhaps fit a few neighborhood kids who could work on lessons remotely together. (Not a formal “pod”, but at least some gathering space if shutdowns are prolonged).
If last year taught me one thing, it’s not that I can’t help my kid with his schoolwork; it’s that I can’t help my kid with his schoolwork from the kitchen table with two very rowdy toddlers climbing up our legs and trying to draw on the worksheets. The level of chaos isn’t fair to him, and it’s not manageable for me. If we’re facing continued remote learning, something has got to give (in addition to my sanity, which is already long gone).
*Side note: I have two very lovable toddlers available to be loaned out this fall! Package deal. Serious inquiries only.
As it becomes closer to the time for the local schools to present their options for fall, I find myself second guessing my plans. I’ve been intending to send my son to school if it opens. But what if it opens with 3 feet of distancing and not the safer 6 feet of distancing that’s been the standard? What if kids go back without masks? For that matter, what if even the youngest kids are asked to wear masks? How will my young son handle that?
I hadn’t given much thought to the “3 foot vs. 6 foot” issue until seeing a video put out by a local school district, which proactively tested out both options with staff as stand-ins for the kids. They came to the conclusion that the 3 foot option just wasn’t safe enough in practice. Will my district come to the same conclusion?
It makes my head spin just thinking about it. I want my son back in school. I will probably send him. But as I hear the concerns from so many parents around me, I would be lying if I didn’t sometimes feel like I might be getting cold feet.
Today I saw a video clip from a pediatrician assuring parents that whatever decision we end up making about school, it will be the right decision – As long as we have the mindset that we made the best choice we could make, and then simply embrace it and move forward.
I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that.
None of us has a crystal ball. We can’t possibly know how this will all play out. We can simply take what we do know, combine that with the needs of our own particular families, and make a choice. We don’t need to beat ourselves up over the choice endlessly, and once we have made our plan we should embrace it and move forward with confidence and a positive attitude.
It’s all we can really do.
Plus, one thing I know is this: When we recognize that a situation we’re in is temporary, we’re better able to cope with it. Depression sets in when difficult situations seem like they will be here forever – like it’s a permanent state rather than a transient one. I need to remind myself about that a lot, lately.
This isn’t forever. This isn’t forever. This. Isn’t. Forever.
My mind thinks;
“I can’t possibly do this. I can’t possibly homeschool my kid, and work, and also raise my toddlers. I will literally lose my mind.”
And then I remind myself that that’s not actually true.
That’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last several months. And while I have kind of lost my mind, the kids are alright. The house hasn’t imploded on itself. I still pay my bills and function like a pretty normal member of society. Chances are good that you, too, have been handling things, even if not always gracefully.
We’ve all been muddling through this disaster, and yes it is completely and totally exhausting, for some more than others depending on the variables of your work and family setups.
But although the end is not yet in sight, I feel hopeful that there will indeed be an end. The vaccine will come. Not as quickly as we want.
But it will come.
And until then, well – probably there will be a lot of challenges.
But there should also still be a run to Target for new notebooks and pencils.
Fall will be here before we know it. And whatever the school year ultimately holds, we owe it to our kids to make sure that when the cool breeze comes, it still carries with it a sense of hope. As anxious as we may feel, it’s still a blank slate.
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