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Decision Time: Should Parents Send Kids Back to School?

by David Engle | Jul 09, 2020 | 8 min read

A few things we do know: COVID-19 has not disappeared; its rates are actually increasing in about 60% of all states (whether that’s because of increased testing is another story). States are setting daily records, hospital beds and ICUs are filling up once again. And this isn’t even the second wave that many medical experts are predicting for the fall. Another thing we know is that school starts soon, and parents have some really difficult decisions to make when it comes to deciding how their children should be educated during the upcoming school year.

Unfortunately, politics play a rather large role in these decisions. Just this week, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos laid down the gauntlet, essentially ordering schools to fully reopen this fall, regardless of COVID-19 numbers or apprehensive parents and students. The president also threatened to withhold federal funding from schools that don’t reopen. The pressure for parents to decide what to do is challenging enough, and this only adds more anxiety to the equation.

Regardless of politics, the idea of children returning to school full time in the fall is the ideal solution for most families. After all, in-person classes are generally more effective than distance learning. Plus, children are able to see their friends on a regular basis. But there are a myriad of “ifs” that cloud the situation and make it so much more complicated than a simple yes/no decision.

1. How will I know if the schools are safe? How will schools enforce social distancing? What about lunch? Recess? Transportation?

These are all legitimate concerns, and the problem is, there’s no actual answer. No one knows how this is going to play out, but sending kids back to school full-time (or even just a few days a week) is a major concern for many families who fear the risk outweighs the reward. Surveys taken of parents across the country show that a significant portion is quite hesitant about their children returning to the classroom.

  • A poll by the American Federation for Children, an advocacy organization supporting school choice for low-income families, found 40% of families nationally were likely to homeschool their children or have them attend a virtual school following the closures.¹
  • The Clark County School District in Nevada will offer the option for online-only instruction, which a CCSD survey shows 30% of families would select.¹
  • A recent study showed 40% of North Carolina families with kids in public schools are considering homeschooling.²
  • Of the parents surveyed in Rock Hill, South Carolina, 16% said they would not send their kids back to the classroom, 34% want virtual learning, and the rest are unsure.³
  • A survey of the Fresno Unified school district in California revealed that nearly 25% of parents preferred distance learning, while a survey of Long Beach Unified parents showed 27% of all parents surveyed were interested in online education for their kids. In Elk Grove, California, 42% preferred a mix of online and in-person classes.⁴
  • A nationwide USA Today/Ipsos poll found that 60% of parents with a child in K-12 said they’d likely pursue remote/at-home learning instead of sending their children to school.⁴
  • In Dayton, Ohio, 25% of survey respondents preferred online schooling, while another 25% wanted to wait for more information before deciding.⁵
  • In Alabama, the state’s Department of Education learned that 15% of all parents don’t want their children returning to a school campus at all.⁶

While not necessarily the majority, these survey samples reveal a significant portion of families who are simply not comfortable with the risks of sending their kids back to school. Among their concerns are, how will schools enforce social distancing? Teachers and principals can’t watch every student all day, so what happens when a student isn’t wearing a mask or washing his or her hands? What happens if a student shows symptoms in class? How will parents know how well the schools are actually being cleaned and sanitized? Will there be partitions? What happens during lunch? And recess? In between classes? How about buses? A lot of questions, right? But these are questions that school districts will have to answer in order for many parents to make an informed decision about whether it’s safe to place their kids back in the classroom.

In Connecticut, schools plan to open five days a week for in-person classes. Students and staff will be required to wear masks inside school buildings, and other safety measures will be implemented to minimize contact between students.⁷ Lunch in the cafeteria? Gone. Students will need to eat in their classrooms or outdoors.

In Tucson, Arizona, schools are preparing with modified classroom layouts to maximize physical distancing, required use of face coverings, enhanced cleaning and safety protocols, special protocols for recess and meals, and no shared materials.⁸

There’s no doubt that school districts are working hard to make schools as safe as they can be, but is that enough to soothe the fears of parents? And, a topic that gets swept under the rug…how will kids respond to this “new” way of school? Sure, they’ll be able to see each other, but they won’t be working in groups together or playing outside together or eating lunch together or sitting on the bus together. School is not going to be what it once was, and younger children may have a difficult time dealing with that. So, is the limited social interaction that kids will have in school worth the risk of potential exposure to illness? Time will tell.

2. Do working parents have a choice?

While many parents would prefer to homeschool or have their children take part in remote learning, it’s simply not feasible. Parents who need to work during regular school hours are forced to make an impossible choice: Do I quit my job, or do I send my child to school even if I’m nervous about the prospect? Or, how can I keep working full-time and homeschool too? Some families can’t get by on one salary. Some families are single-parent families. How are they supposed to support their families without work? On the other hand, are they ready to take on the risk of exposing their children to the coronavirus at school? It’s an unenviable position to be in.

Making matters worse is the fact that some parents don’t have much longer to make this critical decision. For example, public schools in Dayton, Ohio announced that it plans to offer both a full in-class option and an at-home learning choice once school reopens. However, they only have until August 1 to decide, and the school district makes it difficult for a family to switch options once school starts.⁵ That’s a tough choice for any parent to make, yet it’s reality.

3. What will remote/distance learning look like, and will it be an improvement over the spring?

This is a critical issue that both school districts and parents are facing. It’s well known at this point that many families across the country were less than pleased with the level of learning and attention their children received when schools closed during the spring. It’s difficult to place too much blame on the shoulders of schools and teachers–after all, this was uncharted territory for everyone, and most schools did the best they could considering the limited time and resources they had to put a plan together.

Unfortunately, spring’s “school-at-home” plan was not a resounding success. Many families complained that their children were essentially given busy work to take up a couple hours of their day, exams and assessments were not given, some teachers may not have been as accommodating with their time as they were supposed to be, and not all children had equal access to technology such as laptops, Chromebooks, and high-speed internet. These experiences left a very sour taste in the mouths of some parents, and they’re now hesitant to enroll their children in their school districts’ remote learning option, if one is available.

“A lot of parents were disillusioned with what they saw over the last 120 days,” said Luis Huerta, a professor of education and public policy at Teachers College at Columbia University. “They felt the level of instruction was not up to par and that schools dropped the ball during the transition.”⁴

A parent with children in the Los Angeles Unified school district summed it up quite well when she stated that she wants to keep her daughters at home to do distance learning, but she would like teachers to have more live teaching, and she would like the school district to give parents more resources and information to help their children.⁴

This time around, in the eyes of many parents, there are no excuses. School districts have had months to develop suitable distance learning plans and acquire the necessary technology to place students on even ground. Parents are not going to stand for busy work at home for their students, especially if some parents are sacrificing income to be at home while their children take part in remote learning.

Tucson’s largest school districts, citing uncertainty and the soaring rise of COVID-19 cases in Arizona, are beginning their school year entirely remotely, so parents who are keeping their kids in these districts have no choice but to comply with the remote distance option. Once it’s deemed that the schools are safe for students to return to, in-person classes will begin, if parents opt for that route.

One district in Tucson has already made modifications to their remote learning plan by mandating that students log in at certain times each weekday (at least three times per day) and interact with their teachers in a live setting. Other schools with remote learning options will most likely adopt similar measures, but it remains to be seen how effective these measures will be.⁸

If the results are not satisfactory, more and more parents will remove their kids from their local school districts and opt to homeschool, if they haven’t already. And numbers show that many already have.

The lack of faith in school-created distance learning, along with general uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the pandemic, has caused many parents across North Carolina to choose to homeschool their children. The demand has been so high that the state’s non-public schools website crashed this summer due to “an overwhelming submission of notices of intent [to homeschool].”²

Texas, Utah, and Washington have reported a significant increase in homeschooling interest for all the same reasons as North Carolina. This trend has made its way to the heartland as well, with more Kansas families signing up for homeschooling this summer than last. According to data from the Kansas Department of Education, the number of new non-accredited private school registrations [in order to homeschool in Kansas, families are required to register as a private school] increased more than 54% in May and June 2020 compared to the same months in 2019.⁹

This is a gut-wrenching decision for parents of public and private school students to make. There are so many factors to consider–pros and cons–and it’s all complicated by the fact that a decision must be made sooner rather than later as schools start preparing to reopen in the coming weeks. For those parents who are very hesitant about sending their children, take comfort in the fact that homeschooling is an excellent option, whether you want to try it for a year or go long term. Bridgeway Academy offers a wide range of homeschooling programs, including Live Online Classes, Self-Paced Online classes, and more. Call Bridgeway today at (800) 863-1474 to learn more about homeschooling and how we can help make your decision easier.

Sources cited:
David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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