Rhode Islanders just learned last night that there will likely be no announcement of reopening plans for the fall until August 17th.
The Governor has said that the first day of school, statewide, will be August 31st.
This would mean that parents and families would have 14 days to make arrangements for the fall. If the decision is to keep students fully online, families will need to figure out how to manage having their children home five days a week. For those with younger children, this is likely to present massive challenges and disruptions, especially if they are essential workers who must leave home to earn a living.
Who will take care of the kids?
Who will help them navigate online learning?
If their child hated or really struggled with online learning, how are they going to break the news or figure out Plan B that would allow them to receive some kind of instruction in person?
If they are going to look into hiring a private tutor or having grandpa come over to help teach, they need more time to set it all up.
Do they have enough devices for this to even be possible?
Does their WiFi support multiple children doing school online?
Do they even have access to the internet at home?
Do they need a printer? Do they have a printer?
Will a parent have to cut back their hours at work or even quit their job? Can they ask their boss to switch shifts or work from home?
And there are an equal number of issues to consider and decisions to be made if the last minute announcement is that we are shifting to a hybrid model with students going to school in person a couple days a week and working from home a couple days a week.
Are we comfortable sending them on a bus?
Who can drop them off and pick them up?
Are they and their siblings —regardless of age—assigned to the same days?
Are all of their best friends assigned to different days?
Can we still go to work?
Who will be home with the kids on the off days?
Do we have an immuno-compromised or elderly person in the house that makes this plan too risky?
Every iteration of in-person reopening plans seems to indicate that students will have to stay in the same room with the same “stable group” of kids all day, including for lunch.
Can we see our child’s assigned group ahead of time?
Will we send them if they don’t have a single friend in their “stable group”?
Or if there is someone in the group that has picked on them or bullied them in the past?
And if the decision is all five days in-person—which seems highly unlikely at this point—all the same questions apply. I suspect a sizable number of parents will not send their children to school five days a week to sit all day in the same classroom, potentially in a mask with no friends in the room or any opportunity to see friends at lunch. The quick polling I’ve done of kids I know is that they would want to go back if they had at least one or two friends in their class group but if not, they would prefer prefer full-time distance learning. I suspect my middle or high school self would likely say the same. Wouldn’t you?
And what about the parents of children with special needs? They have even more need to know what is going on, what the options are and what they can do to help mitigate the anxiety and potential regression of their children.
Some parents may want to stay in their school system but hire someone to help their children—and maybe some friends’ children—throughout the virtual school day.
There are the other parents who—if they can afford it— will prefer to opt out of the school district entirely and figure out a way to become a true “homeschooling” family. Many states have already seen an explosion in homeschooling applications and the micro-schooling or “pandemic pod” trend has taken off like a rocket.
Microschooling, according to a recent Good Morning America segment, is basically “a home-based learning center for younger children that house four to 12 at a time, in a garage or spare room. The way it works is that microschools can employ an accredited teacher, or parents can even rotate as a teacher in more of a co-op mode.”
From the Washington Post last week:
Across the country, families are gathering with strangers in Facebook groups and friends over text messages to make matches. Teachers are being recruited, sometimes furtively, to work with small clusters of children. A Facebook group dedicated to helping families connect and learn how to do this drew 3,400 members in nine days, with at least seven local groups already spun off.Washington Post
Teachers are already reporting that they will earn more than their current district salary by pivoting to this more entrepreneurial version of teaching—considering how low teaching salaries are in some states, this is not surprising.
If families of means begin to peel off and look for alternatives, the educational gap will widen—partly because we are a state that does not allow any private school choice and so far, our lawmakers have not submitted bills to help offset the cost for low income families to subsidize hiring a tutor or purchasing materials. Other states have.
I have three of my own children. Two in middle school and one in high school. How are we going to make an informed and deliberate decision about what they’ll do if we don’t even know what the options will be until 14 days before the first day of school?
This is crazy, not to mention indefensible. Yes, we all understand how hard this is for state officials and district and school leaders. They too are in what seems like an impossible position. But to allow only two weeks for parents and families to make arrangements is an untenable plan. We all need to at least try to be on a solid foundation of trust and respect on day one and that becomes impossible with only two weeks notice to make decisions and plans.
Parents deal with a million moving pieces when we aren’t in the crisis of COVID-19. It is not reasonable to expect us to do it now, during a pandemic, in only 14 days. The last thing we need is a governor and department of education that keeps punting instead of taking decisive action so that parents can make plans.
The timeline needs to be changed today, for everyone’s sake.