Back-to-school 2020 and how parents made the impossible choice.

The new school year is upon us, and like all parents, the pandemic has forced us to make the impossible decision choice between online and in-class education.

two girls walking on the sidewalk with trees all around

Normally, at this time of year, we are excitedly running around making sure we have our clothes, shoes and school supplies lined up. There is a buzz in the air as the start of another school year is insight.

However this year has been anything but normal.

Pivot

In March, as the world tried to protect itself from Covid-19, businesses shifted their employees to work from home, restaurants, malls and stores shut down and our schools shifted to learning from home. Everyone had to pivot.

In fact, pivot might be the word of the year. Everything changed.

And it hasn’t been easy.

Our family bunkered down. We adjusted to working from home and the kids had a few weeks where they thought this was all a grand vacation. Until school boards pivoted to distance learning.

girl in front of laptop with bun in her hair

The kids had work was assigned through their Google Classrooms with little-to-no direction and we struggled to get the Little Bird and the Little Mouse to commit to the work, especially when it appeared that the teachers were not engaged. In fact, my youngest never had any deadlines for her “assignments”, nothing was marked or returned, no feedback was given to keep them motivated and hardly any questions were answered.

As the school year went on, the teachers seemed to shift their focus from class work to doing online presentations, as they tried to find ways to keep the kids engaged, however I think it really fell flat. Not many kids participated, and it became harder and harder to get my kids to want to do the work.

Wearing many hats

What nobody seemed to consider was that parents were working from home. Internet and WIFI speeds couldn’t handle four of us online at the same time. Little direction or support meant I found myself becoming a teacher, while also trying to complete my work deliverables. And although I have authority in the motherhood department, kids don’t listen to their parents when it comes to schoolwork.

Quite frankly, the entire plan was a joke. And I’m not sure who was more happy that it was over at the end of June – the kids or me. (hint: it was definitely me!)

girls in front of laptop wearing headphones

Then we all played a game of wait-and-see. We had to wait to see how the virus was spreading, in order to see what would happen with school. And once the province announced that school boards had to plan for in-class and online options, our minds started reeling with the two options we would face come the fall.

There have been numerous announcements made since, with the plan for a full return to in-class school as the number of infections has dropped and the province is reopening again. Of course, we also have the option to remain at home and participate in online learning.

To be completely honest, both scare me a lot.

The reason we have been so careful is that we have immuno-compromised individuals on both sides of our family. I’ll never forgive myself if something happened to one of them. I haven’t hugged my parents or my in-laws in months. And the scars of managing distance learning from March to June are still healing.

The impossible choice

And yet we are are forced to make an impossible choice between online and in-class education. And we haven’t really been given a lot of time to weigh those options.

Just last week, I watched a board meeting that was streamed online where they outlined mask policies, health and safety protocols, curriculum, online learning and in-school entry plans for both elementary and high school. Not all of it was clear. And had me flip-flopping between which option is safer.

But still, the dreaded parent survey was sent out following the meeting and parents were given two days to decide. Two days to make this impossible choice. And even as I write this, there are announcements still being made about staggering start dates, and more changes that could happen.

classroom of empty desks

The bottom line is we don’t have all the information to make a decision, but this is as good as it’s going to get right now. I’ve worked in business long enough to know that sometimes “as good as it’s going to get” is all you have to work with. And as the government is figuring it out, the school board is making adjustments. Then as the board makes adjustments, the teachers are formulating their plans. And parents are making this impossible decision.

I cried many tears, in fear and confusion because I feel like both options are risky, and neither choice will be easy.

Our options

Do I send them to school, where they will have to wear a mask all day? Where teachers can leave the cohort and mingle with other classes or teachers – yet my kids need to stay put? Do I send them to an elementary classroom that is already bursting at the seams, and smaller class sizes are not mandatory? Gym, French and music are still scheduled, and those teachers rotate to all the classes throughout the school, and are even shared with other schools? Where the plan for washroom breaks and recess hasn’t really been established.

Or do I keep them home, where they will have a teacher from their board, and most likely not from their school. They will be online in a “class” with other kids from their grade, from other schools that they won’t know. The kids will be required to sit at a computer for 225 minutes a day, while my husband and I are also working. Where there is a high probability that they will not be learning at the same pace as the their friends in-class. Where we aren’t sure we will have access to textbooks, and we aren’t clear how tests are going to work.

I have so many questions.

And I have spoken to so many people – parents, teachers, friends, family. Everyone’s advice is the same – do what’s right for your family.

Choosing Mental health

So, D and I sat down with the kids. We discussed all the options, all the protocols that have presented to date, and we asked them what they want to do. Surprisingly, they both said they want to go back. They miss their friends. They miss their teachers. And they really didn’t like sitting at the computer all day.

Factoring their mental health is something that I haven’t taken lightly. I have seen the changes in their emotional state and well-being. I’ve seen the toll that isolation has taken. And I’m sure the effects of being home for almost six months will not be fixed over-night. Most of all, the impact of living through a pandemic will stay with them forever.

And so we talked, and talked, and just when we thought we couldn’t talk about it anymore, we broke it down again, weighed each option and what it would mean to send them and keep them home. We spoke with the girls again and agreed that neither choice is permanent. That the low numbers and the protocols were safe enough to try.

And so the impossible choice has been made – we’ll send them to school.

I will monitor the situation, and ask them questions every day to see how they are feeling, make sure to pay close attention to their reactions and emotional well-being. I’ll listen closely to their words and check on their mental health. And if, at any time, we feel unsafe, or that protocols aren’t being met, or the world changes again – we will pull them out.

two girls looking into school doors from the outside

But we decided that we had to try. We have to give them the opportunity to socialize, even if it’s physically distanced. To be in class again, after being away for so long. We needed to trust in them to navigate the situation.

Speaking up and speaking out

Parenting is hard. Parenting in a pandemic has been harder. Making an impossible choice for the 2020/2021 school year has been one of the hardest decisions of my life. I’ve lost sleep. I have cried many tears. I’ve obsessed over reading and educating myself. I wrote to my school board, MPP and the Education Minister with all my questions (and didn’t get an answer, by the way). I’ve sent my principal and email (which also went unanswered). I’ve leaned on friends, colleagues, family and strangers and I’ve shared all my fears on social media.

But despite all that, I feel calmer. I am still afraid, but have confidence in my kids to follow the rules. We have faith in out instincts to know when to pull them out. I trust in myself to know what is right for them and their mental health.

So, if you are still trying to make the impossible choice, I sympathize with you. But know you have the confidence to make the choice that’s best for your kids and your family. Because in the end, that’s all we can do.

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2 thoughts on “Back-to-school 2020 and how parents made the impossible choice.

  1. This really was a very difficult decision and I felt sick to stomach the day we had to send our response in. I waited until 4:58pm Last Friday because I was going back and forth. I ultimately decided to send them back for the same reasons you did. Both my girls wanted to go back as well. We can only remind the kids daily of hygiene practices, monitor the situation daily and move forward according to how things play out. I pray they all stay safe in school. Thanks for the post!

    1. I felt the same. I cried so often because I was worried I would make the wrong choice. And then I reminded myself that it’s not permanent.
      We do have to remind them, but also allow them to try. It will be so good for them to interact with their friends, even behind a mask.
      I pray they are okay too. Al the best to your kids! Xo

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