As schools prepare to reopen in the fall, parents are grappling with what’s best for their children in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite various local school districts requiring masks and promising to keep children a few feet apart, Indiana parents are divided on if reopening schools is the best option.
Some families feel the rewards outweigh the risks. Schools offer food, safety, routine, socialization, and education while parents are away at work. However, many parents aren’t willing to risk exposing their children to the virus and say they’ll be looking into alternatives for their children’s education this year.
Indy K12 spoke with parents on both sides about the 2020-2021 school year.
Learning at home
A number of parents who’ve never considered homeschooling or distance learning are looking into those options this year.
One such parent is Liz Wray, whose son is enrolled in Hamilton Southeastern Schools.
Wray is immune-compromised: If her son catches coronavirus and has no complications, she might not be as lucky.
Ideally, she’d like to continue online learning, but will consider sending him back to the classroom with a mask if her son’s school district doesn’t have that option. She hopes her choice will help create space in the classroom for students who will not be able to learn from home.
“I wish we had more resources in place for parents, and all people, who need financial or other help so they could (teach their children at home) as well,” said Wray. “They haven’t released the plan for our school system yet. If we have the option, I will probably be keeping him home and using online resources. I don’t have a day job, so I will be able to supervise closely. Not all parents are able to have that option.”
Lanae Valise, who has a son who will be starting middle school, agrees.
“I think schools need to continue interactive learning because staff and teachers, unfortunately, will not all take the necessary precautions to make sure the spread of this virus is prevented,” said Valise. “I’m not saying there won’t be some who are, but there are staff and teachers who still don’t take the virus as serious. We won’t have someone to make sure they are actually following protocol, and kids alone are a risk factor. Getting an entire school of kids to wear masks and consistently wash hands is a task within itself.”
A recent survey found that one-third of families in the IPS district are interested in a full-time virtual learning option. Many districts in Indiana, including IPS, will be offering both in-person and remote learning for the 2020-2021 school year.
Parents in the IPS district who wish to enroll in virtual learning should complete this form before July 17.
However, some parents believe that the rewards of reopening schools outweigh the risks.
Back to the classroom
Mariah Gavia-Locke has a daughter with health complications that would make catching the coronavirus a devastating situation for her family.
“I get very worried that if I get around someone that has it, or if the kids do, I will give it to (my daughter) without knowing. So, that’s the scariest part about it.”
Gavia-Locke’s fears are warranted. Indiana currently has over 50,000 positive cases, and hundreds of confirmed cases of the deadly disease are being reported to the Indiana State Department of Health each day. Coronavirus in Indiana is especially concentrated in the geographic area of the IPS district.
Before the pandemic, her daily routine consisted of sending her oldest children off to school and then heading to work. She’d often pay a visit to her youngest daughter at the hospital before her other two children came home from school.
While she thinks it’s safer to continue remote learning, she doesn’t think it’s logistically possible for many parents.
“As much as I want my kids to stay home when schools open up, I don’t think I can afford it,” Gavia-Locke said.
Gavia-Locke pointed out that pandemics don’t lessen the amount of bills families need to pay.
“My landlord never said ‘If you don’t have the money we will let you catch up later.’ No, they just sent out an email stating where you could put your rent once they closed the leasing office up,” Gavia-Locke explained. “It’s sad and scary, but I have to be a strong adult, handle my responsibilities, and provide for my family. I’m a single mother of three; I don’t have a choice.”
Laura Nicole* also feels that going back to the classroom is the best option for her family. Her daughter is currently in daycare and will be attending Pre K in the fall.
Nicole is happy with the way the daycare handled cleaning and keeping the building safe. It helped her feel comfortable about sending her daughter to school.
“It was a great experience being home with my daughter, but it’s great for her to have that social interaction with peers again. It is also great for me to be able to take care of errands as a parent and not have to worry about taking her out to public places,” said Nicole. “I believe the virus will be around for some time, unfortunately, even if it’s not as rampant. With proper precautions, everything can go smoothly.”
Additional Parent perspectives from Indiana and beyond:
Brooke Seibel: (My husband) is head of school at a small classical Christian school in Carmel. Our oldest son will attend kindergarten in the fall. The approach we have taken from the start with this pandemic is to have compassion on the obvious reality of how it is affecting people’s lives, and yet knowing that for us we take a different approach. We believe that it is best to give our bodies a chance to fight off illnesses naturally and build immunity that way. We think that our kids should go to school with no masks on. We do agree that good hygiene practices are always good habits to help kids form and even emphasizing that more this year would be helpful. But I don’t think we should put burdensome impositions on kids. I am not convinced of the science of masks being truly helpful. And yet there is a responsibility we have to those that are more vulnerable. I think there should be exceptions for families with higher risk people. And more grace for those families, alongside options for virtual learning.
Emmylee Alexandra: I am considering homeschooling my kids because the state of Florida is forcing schools to reopen and simultaneously cutting back funding for their online schooling resources. I have a child with asthma, and I have an autoimmune disorder. We can’t take chances. It sucks because I also work full time from home, so homeschooling two kids is going to break my sanity. But what choice do we have?
Sydney Renee Reed: My son will be starting first grade. I’m scared, but I don’t want him to forget what it’s like to interact and learn in a classroom. He attends a private school that’s been taking precautions to make sure it’s safe to open again. If they have to they will continue virtually learning. I’d be okay with kids attending three days out the week or some type of rotating schedule.
Shawn Alexus: My children will not return. Everyone’s situation isn’t the same though. Some parents are the only breadwinner, and they really don’t have a choice. Some children learn better in the classroom. For many, the decision will be what you call “caught between a rock and a hard place.”
*Laura Nicole’s name has been changed because she wishes to remain anonymous.