Marble composition notebooks and brightly colored lunch boxes hit the shelves over a month ago, but parents are just now figuring out their schools’ reopening plans.
Most districts, after spending much of the summer planning, released lengthy documents for parents to dissect — outlining new hybrid schedules, cleaning procedures, and daily health screenings. Christina Davis, who has a child in the Chester, N.Y., school district, said the reopening packet she received was more than 50 pages long.
The decision to send children back into the classroom — or not — isn’t an easy one. Parents are weighing the pros and cons regarding safety, cleanliness, their child’s stress levels, and childcare options. Many parents depend on being able to send their kids to school while they work, and don’t necessarily have someone who can watch their children or help with remote learning on a regular basis.
“Now that the Monroe-Woodbury schedule just came out, I think the public is frantic,” said Mary Colabella, owner of Kids Korner in Central Valley, N.Y. “I don’t know how anyone can keep a 9-to-5 job, unless they can do it from home, with a schedule like that.”
Her daycare center has seen an uptick in registrations, particularly for older children.
“They’re asking a lot about virtual learning and how we can assist,” she said. “That’s what they seem very concerned about.” In response, she added an education graduate from Mount Saint Mary College to her team to help with remote learning throughout the day.
‘This whole thing is bananas’
Elizabeth Mallard, who has one child going into eighth grade, and another starting kindergarten in the Delaware Valley School District in Milford, Pa., is planning to do remote learning this year.
“I don’t want to play Russian roulette and find out one of us is going to end up in the hospital,” she said. “I would honestly rather look like somebody who is paranoid, and just not have to worry about exposing anyone accidentally, my kids exposing someone, my kids becoming exposed and bringing it home.”
Then there the dealing with quarantines and constant interruptions at school.
“For me, it just makes more sense to keep them home,” said Mallard. “And I can because I’m here anyway.”
Jesse Sanchez, who has two kids who go to school in West Milford, N.J., is also planning to keep his kids home. He works in information technology and was able to set his kids up with remote learning fairly seamlessly. He gets to work from home twice a week, and his wife is home full time. And while his children admit they miss their friends, they too prefer to stay home this year.
His concerns echoed Elizabeth’s. “We’d rather be safe than sorry,” he said.
The reopening packet he received said the district will reevaluate every six weeks. “It doesn’t specify that you could do a full year, and we’re kind of scared that they could say November, December, everyone has to come in,” he said. “It doesn’t say you can do the whole year fully remote.”
As someone who grew up with a single, working parent, Mallard worries about her neighbors who may not have that option.
“What would happen to us if this had happened all those years ago, when my mom was working three jobs?” Mallard said. “I don’t know how we could have done it. We would have probably lost our house.”
She said she wakes up in the middle of the night with anxiety thinking about people who can’t stay home and can’t make these choices. “I’ve been in those situations,” she said, “and those things, you don’t forget them. They don’t leave you. It’s hard.
“I really wish the schools would do a little bit more to help people because I think this whole thing is bananas. It’s a no-win situation.”
‘These kids are out’
Christina Davis, whose daughter attends the Orange-Ulster BOCES cosmetology program and attends Chester Academy, is ready for her kid to get back in the classroom. But, at the time of publication, she still didn’t have answers about the capacity at which the trade school would open.
When everything went remote last year, her daughter was left watching a lot of videos and reading to learn the trade.
“Even if it goes back to a hybrid or a virtual thing, I don’t think that she’ll be able to get her certificate because it’s a hands-on program,” Davis said. “All of them are: the cooking, the carpentry, auto mechanics, the pilot one! It’s a trade school. Without being there, what are they really getting out of it?”
As the parent of a senior, she’s also confident that her daughter can follow basic social distancing rules at school. She admits that if she had an elementary school student, she might not be so willing to send her kid back.
“My feeling on it is this: My daughter works. She’s working in a mall, she’s around people all the time, every day,” Davis said. “Every night I go home, the basketball courts are packed. These kids are out — they’re doing their thing: They’re going to the malls. They’re going to the beaches. What’s the difference if you have 50 of them sitting at the courts for three hours playing, or they’re sitting in school? I don’t want to sound harsh, I understand a lot of people are conflicted with this, and I think that my opinion on it is because my kid’s older.”
Susan McCall, a nurse with children going into second, fourth, and sixth grades this year, is also planning to send her kids back into the classroom on the hybrid schedule outlined by their Byram, N.J., school district.
“I feel the academic and emotional ramifications are definitely worse than COVID is for our kids,” she said. “I think our district thought of everything and put together an amazing plan. I feel very confident sending my kids back with the plan they’ve put in place.”
Her biggest concern right now is the division in the community that has resulted from the debate over whether to send kids back.
“My frustrations lie way more on a state level than the township level because I think they’ve put people in no-win situations,” McCall said. “It really turned people against each other the way things went down trying to come up with plans.”
She’s confident that her second grader will keep his mask on when he returns to school, but thinks he’ll be touching it a lot. She does wish that more people would get on board with mask wearing.
“I think that people people need to start now,” she said. “Do a Lego set with the mask on or something so they’re not thinking about the mask. I think that the sooner people accept that it’s something we’re going to have to get used to, the better. No one wants to wear a mask, no one wants to see a five-year-old go to kindergarten in a mask, you know? But this might be the way for a little while. Let things run its course. It’ll be the new normal — not the one we want, but it’ll be okay.”
“My frustrations lie way more on a state level than the township level because I think they’ve put people in no-win situations. It really turned people against each other the way things went down trying to come up with plans.” --Susan McCall, Byram, N.J.