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“Back” to School

As we enter the time of year when kids are longing for a few more weeks of pool time, staying up late, and sleeping in, all while parents are typically counting down the hours, this years back to school routine, as with many things the past several months, is looking much different. Parents, including my wife and I, have been having to grapple with the question of keeping kids home or sending them back to school in person. As I write this, I also know there are several families that don’t have the luxury of making a choice. They simply have to do what their work, life, and parenting balance allows them to do. So, while I am commenting on my family’s process to make our choice, I know, and am grateful, we are in the position to be able to do so.

Choices. As the parent of a 16 and 13 year old, I’ve learned at this point that much of my parenting comes down to decision-making, and how those choices have shaped my kids, both positively and negatively. Some choices were easy, like no candy before you eat fruits and vegetables. Or “no, you cannot watch another two hours of TV. Get outside and do something!” Some choices were a little more complex, like what punishment is appropriate when they were caught in a lie, or deliberately started to rebel as they grew older and pushed the limits of their freedom. While other choices were just plain difficult, like deciding to move forward with surgery on one of my girls when she was two vs giving it some more time to see if her body naturally corrected the problem. However, in all those scenarios there was one constant, which was, there seemed to always be a good and a bad choice or at least one that was less bad. This made our job a little easier. If we at least gravitated to the one that was more on the good side of the spectrum or gave it the most weight in our decision-making, we could always revert back to feeling confident in the “we did what we felt was best at the time” internal monologue.

Unfortunately, with this year’s back to school, there really doesn’t seem to be a “better option” choice. On one hand, we can keep them home, and do online learning. The main problem here is that my wife and I are not teachers, and that option will require a large amount of support by us. We both have parents that were teachers, so we know first-hand the amount of dedication, time, planning and expertise that takes. Keeping our daughters home also has an impact on the social and emotional growth that typically happens while they are interacting with their peers. On the other hand, we can send them back to school in person. Obviously, the main issue here is that they can become exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, which could result in themselves, a family member or friend to become sick. One of our daughters has respiratory issues, and they also have grandparents that we occasionally still try to interact with, so our situation has three individuals with higher risk factors. Personally, I feel that the best choice would be to keep everybody home and have everyone do remote learning again. This feels like it would be the safest, best public health option and would continue to give health care professionals the needed time to understand COVID-19, and to ultimately work towards a vaccine. But as mentioned earlier, that will simply not work for everyone for a variety of reasons, including social and economic ones. Without a solution that works best for us all, the decision comes down to individual families.

As with past big decisions, my wife and I began our decision-making process by researching in order to weigh the pros and cons of our options. Since this is a public health crisis there are plenty of resources to look through for information. Early on we found this page on the CDC website that serves to support parents in their back to school decision-making and we thought it was very helpful.

We initially looked at our state and local guidelines to know what our options might be based on current data for the virus in our state and specific community, as well as policies already in place. Then, once our school district announced their plans for returning to school, we started to gather information about what specific policies were being implemented to keep everyone, including the school staff, safe. Our particular district did a great job passing along information to keep everyone updated through emails, webinars, online surveys, and their websites.

Through these tools, we were also able to research the remote learning options our schools were implementing. We felt that last spring was a shock for everyone, and the schools did the best they could, given the limited amount of time (none) they had to plan for how to close out the school year, but there were gaps in the online curriculum and how it was being delivered. If this were to be a viable option for our family, we had the expectation that this year would need to be handled differently to make remote learning a viable option. Through our research and the information the schools provided, we found they had spent significant time over the summer planning for the fall return, and all the adjustments to remote learning they had put in place to have learning return to as normal as possible for students and teachers.

Ultimately, we chose to keep our daughters in remote learning for the first part of the year. It wasn’t a decision we came to lightly, and it was definitely NOT initially a popular decision amongst our daughters, but it was one we felt the most comfortable with. We are fortunate to have the time and resources to support them while they are working from home. With that flexibility, we are able to give this a significant amount of attention and work toward the best possible outcome. We know there are going to be challenges to this, and all will not go smoothly, but we do feel confident that this will be a much better experience for us than it was last spring.

As you make, or have made, your school choice for the fall, I wish your family the best during these strange and trying times. While I know it won’t be the last difficult decision we as parents are called on to make on behalf of our kids, I hope the next several are at least back on the easier side of the spectrum.