School Decisions in the COVID-19 Era

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It has been the topic on most of my clients’ minds these past few weeks. As our central Ohio districts start to roll out preliminary plans, parents are hearing that they will need to make decisions soon — as early as this week for some districts. With little information and lots of concerns, we are talking about options in session and I wanted to share what I’m telling people.

Identify Your Experts

I’ve been following Andy Slavitt, the former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, on Twitter because I like the way he lays out information. He has recommendations about schools, which you can read in his Twitter feed or listen to on his podcasts or check out in one of his interviews but I’m mentioning him here because he says that we each need to decide who are we listening to. Who are our experts?

Your chosen expert isn’t going to get everything right because we are learning new things about the coronavirus all of the time but when they do get things wrong, they should admit it and not hold onto their outdated thinking.

So that’s the first thing. Find the experts you’re going to listen to.

Make a Flow Chart

Whether or not you’re sending your child back into brick and mortar school, you’re going to be doing some school at home. At least that’s true for most of us. Because we’ve decided to let individual communities make decisions based on their unique needs and circumstances, some of us will have kids back in full day school but most of us won’t. And all of us need to be prepared for that to change. This is why I’m recommending a flow chart.

What do you need to have in place to send your kids?

What do you need to have in place if they come home?

What will you do if you are facing this circumstance or that? (If you are using after school care, what will you do if care closes down? What will you do if your family needs to quarantine because of possible exposure or symptoms? What will you do if school transportation breaks down?)

It’s so easy to become completely overwhelmed by all of the possibilities or potential issues. But if you build a flow chart you can start making sense of where you might need a Plan B and start considering your options.

We Still Need a Village

It looks like we need to accept that this virus will be part of our lives through the rest of 2020 and likely beyond. Now I could be wrong about this and I hope I am but there is no harm in planning for the worst (while hoping for the best). I’m rooting for some big discoveries in treatment and prevention and maybe some virus mutations that make this thing easier to manage but until that happens, I’m assuming that fall will bring more social distancing restrictions.

Does your family need to consider bringing people into your quarantine bubble? Do you need to think about pooling resources with another family?

For example, I read about a family who reached out to other families in her neighborhood with kids the same age. They’ve decided to make themselves a “quaranteam” (with bylaws and signed agreements) so that they can share distancing learning duties. They’ll take turns helping each other with the education and childcare piece. If doing this in-person doesn’t feel workable, you can consider bringing on some virtual help. One parent can supervise the biology work and another can take over math.

As to Mental Health

I know the American Association of Pediatrics came out and said kids need to be back to school full-time for their well being. Please allow me to call bullshit on such a sweeping statement. Absolutely, some kids need to be back in school. Some kids learn better in school. Some kids are not safe at home. This is absolutely true. But this does not mean that every child in every situation, every family, every community should be back in school. YOU, my dear parents, GET TO DECIDE.

This is a global pandemic and that doesn’t for ideal parenting situations, I know. We are all struggling but we need to be realistic. We are not going to be able to go back to pre-coronavirus normal for some time so it’s best we accept that THIS is normal and plan accordingly. I’ve been frustrated by how much our official response has been to try to force unrealistic standards instead of coming up with new ideas and possibilities.

But you can do that. We can do that. At least as much as we are able.

Again, some of our children need to be back in school. Some kids are more social, some kids need more supports, some families need childcare. Right? Right! And we need to help those families connect with the resources that they need.

But the other children need to be home. I’ve heard from several parents that their children are thriving at home and actually doing better. Some families don’t need childcare. Some families have greater concerns about potential infection than others. Right? Right! And we need to support those families, too.

Some of the families I work with feel like they fit in both spots. They want their child in school but they have concerns. What then? That’s where the flow charts come in. I encourage them to enroll their child in face-to-face if they think they might use it and then have a plan for under what circumstances they wouldn’t. So even if the school decides to meet in-person in a particular situation that the family is not comfortable with, the family has an exit strategy. But enrolling in face to face gives them options. I don’t think those parents who choose distance learning will be able to go back to school (I think the margins will be too tight) but the ones who are there in person will have to have a way to come home. Therefore for families not sure and being forced to choose, they should choose that which gives them the most options.

There is No Behind

I’m glad that our local districts are trying to create alternatives to meet the needs of all families, which is (let’s face it) an impossible task. I will tell you right now that it’s ok that our kids aren’t going to get the exact education they would have gotten because education is not a time sensitive endeavor. If the whole student body is “behind” then no one is, by definition, behind. School of the future, colleges and tech programs are going to have to make way for this because it’s the reality. Trust me, dealing with the weirdness of school fall out is just gonna be part of our collective experience.

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