In March of 2020, parents across the United States were forced to scramble when schools around the United States transitioned from brick and mortar learning to virtual, app based, or worksheet based learning due to the COVID19 pandemic. The shut down occurred at the same time thousands of employees were laid off or furloughed, people were told not to come within six feet of anyone not already living inside their homes, and grandparents were informed of their heightened risk as it relates to COVID19. The result – our society which has historically been built upon shared community responsibility for the safety, health, and education of our children became unrecognizable overnight. Not only were many parents now responsible for supervising their children 24 hours a day, but they also became “unwilling” homeschoolers. I use the word “unwilling” because families that choose homeschooling typically have a robust system for learning in place at home and the time to commit to providing an education for their children. Our unwilling homeschoolers were tasked with overseeing programs quickly thrown together by schools in a valiant but ultimately failed effort to continue providing an education to students. The result for my family was a lot of isolation and a lot of tears.
As we approach fall, parents have less certainty than ever about what the 2020-2021 school year will look like. As of the writing of this article, school systems in many states are being permitted to take a district by district approach to determine whether instruction should be traditional in person, virtual, or a hybrid of the two. Many school districts have yet to announce their decision, and many of those that have announced some sort of plan for the school year have delayed the start of school. New York City, the nation’s largest school district, has announced that classroom attendance in September will be limited to only one to three days a week in an effort to continue to curb the outbreak.
Taking a statewide approach, Florida’s Education Commissioner has issued an emergency order mandating that Florida school districts reopen in August for at least five days a week. Following the order, at least one Florida school system has responded that it would not reopen and would offer classes online only if the county does not experience a steady decline in new coronavirus cases.
Surely if the school systems and states cannot come up with a cohesive and well thought out plan for the school year, some trusted experts within our community will step in and save the day, right? Not likely. On June 25, 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization that describes its mission as “to attain optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents and young adults” issued the “COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry” in which it stressed the fundamental role of schools in providing academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, nutrition, physical activity, and mental health therapy. The bottom line – the AAP strongly advocated that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. Fast forward a few weeks, the AAP backpedaled, releasing a statement which reads “Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff. It elaborated that “Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools.”
Compounding matters further, if in school instruction does happen, in many places it will look dramatically different than pre-COVID19. In May of 2020, the CDC issued restrictive suggested guidelines for the reopening of schools which included the use of face coverings, elimination of communal use shared spaces such as dining halls and playgrounds with shared playground equipment, installation of partitions, no shared objects, no water fountains, and lunch individually plated and eaten in the classroom. Even if schools find the appropriate balance of precautions to take in the context of brick and mortar learning, what will happen if there is a coronavirus outbreak, or even a solo infection, in the school? Will impacted students once again be forced to spend hours doing Apps or worksheets, both inadequate substitutes for interactive, teacher led instruction?
The impact that the COVID19 crisis has had on our society cannot be overstated, and this is particularly true for working parents. While employers across the United States that were able to withstand the economic impact of the pandemic pivoted to remote working, parents were faced with the difficult task of balancing parenting and working simultaneously. The result in my household was me not doing either one particularly well. This begs the question – what will the fall bring for working parents? Families are considering embracing real homeschooling in unprecedented numbers. Some families are hiring tutors or teachers to provide in person instruction for small groups of children. Some families are at the mercy of the school system with no suitable alternative.
I don’t have the answer. I am confused myself and there are a lot of decisions my family will have to make in the next month. When this all started I thought an online educational but interactive platform to host classes would be a good solution to reduce isolation and hopefully some tears. My brother and I worked tirelessly to put together www.kidsconnected.com. The platform is not the solution for everything, but we hope it provides some help to families in this difficult time. If you have any other resources that parents might find useful, please share them in our Facebook feed.