I’m not sending my daughter back to school for second grade this fall. While this decision comes at considerable cost to her education and my ability to work, it is the right one for us.
My family lives in Arlington County, where the school system has presented a choice of a hybrid model that includes two days in school and three days of distance learning, or an all-virtual model. While I appreciate the impossible situation that is larger than our school board, both of these choices are, frankly, horrible for children my daughter’s age, who really depend upon in-person instruction and socialization in order to succeed. What’s more, these choices are particularly devastating for low-income children, children of color, children for whom English is a second language, and children with learning disabilities.
We should have, as a country, gotten it together when we closed down in the spring. We should have used this time to create plans for social distancing that work, to educate people about how to keep our communities safer, and develop plans for better testing and contract tracing abilities that would allow for greater reopening.
Instead, led with political pressure from a president most concerned about his re-election, states rushed to reopen their economies in the pursuit of short-term political gain. Now we are paying the price with spikes in coronavirus infections that appear to be out of control.
Making this choice was agonizing. My daughter is just beginning to read and write, and she needs to see teachers. She also needs to see other children, which is heightened by the fact that she is an only child. My ability to work has taken a huge hit since we began to shelter in place on March 13, and I wake up at 4 a.m. (or earlier) multiple days a week just so I can “juggle” the expectation that I do my job and serve as my daughter’s teacher and tech support.
But we can do hard things, and I believe, ethically, that we have to do this very hard thing for another year because it’s neither safe nor fair to throw teachers, school support staff, and our community into an epidemiological experiment that has been rushed along under political pressure. We’ve seen the results of rushing to reopen before the virus has been contained before, and it’s why the United States has been forced to use freezer trucks to store the bodies of people, disproportionately Black and brown, whose deaths could have been prevented.
While reducing the number of children in the building during the school day, the model of sending children to school for a few days a week on a staggered schedule creates a patchwork of childcare problems that facilitates community spread. It’s likely that students from multiple schools and districts will mix and mingle in childcare programs because of the odd school schedules happening throughout our region.
My school district has not yet made a decision about the fate of the extended day program our family relied upon in previous years, but I believe the writing is on the wall that, um, there won’t be an opportunity to send our children into the school to all play together in a gym with students from all grades starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m. each day. At this time, I don’t see an option to send my daughter back to another form of childcare, either.
I do not begrudge parents who are ‘choosing’ the hybrid model of education in my district, and I hope the model works out. We are all doing the best we can in impossible circumstances, many of us with colleagues who do not have a grasp on what it’s really like to be a teacher and a camp counselor and a parent and an employee at the same time, with crying children struggling with mental and emotional stress, technology platforms that are complex for children and adults to navigate, and without a break since the beginning of March.
Having done the math, I think (hope) it will be less work for me to have my daughter at-home full-time where she can have live, virtual instruction for about three hours, four days each week than it is to have her in school two days and no live time with teachers for three. Still, I am expecting to spend 38 hours per week for the upcoming year serving as her teacher. This time is not counting interruptions I expect as I work because she is a young child and needs help, nor time serving as her playmate because she is an only child and needs someone to play with her. In the continuing absence of leadership from public officials, what we are witnessing in real-time is my generation of moms being pushed out of the workforce or downgraded in our careers – I say moms intentionally because while parenting is gender-neutral, who is being pushed out is not – if we don’t collapse from exhaustion first. Now you know why.
Have you heard the Secretary of Labor say anything about this? The Secretary of Education seems to have discovered in the past week that children are out of school, and all she is doing is shaming the impossible choices that parents have rather than creating pathways to actually support the damn kids who don’t have the option to go to school five days per week.
We’re staying home next year for the reason that our political leaders have completely failed all of us in containing this virus, botching it so bad that we have the worst infection rates in the world, with children unable to go to school and parents and teachers being forced to quit their jobs to deal with the untenable ‘choices’ forced upon us.
We had a choice: Open bars or open schools. Our country made a choice, and my daughter is now staying home from school for the upcoming year.