Working mothers are waiting anxiously to see whether their child’s classroom will reopen in the next month or two, and how they’ll cover the bills if they’re forced to oversee online learning at home.
Stephanie Engelman, a mother of five who lives in Indianapolis, works from home as a writer. Four of her kids will be in school in the fall attending Catholic schools, and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has announced its schools will reopen on schedule. But her youngest, a five-year-old, will be staying home instead of starting at public kindergarten.
“Basically, I’m just going to not sleep very much. That’s my plan,” she said.
The public school is planning to open, but with a mask requirement for all kids.
“I had already decided I don’t want my five-year-old wearing a mask all day,” she said, “and I also didn’t want to teach him virtually.”
Online learning for kindergartners? “It’s a joke,” she says.
The data tend to back up her opinion.
A study of the Los Angeles school district found that “on an average day only about 36 percent of middle and high school students participated online. About 25 percent logged on or viewed work only. And about 40 percent were absent,” the LA Times reports.
And an analysis of remote learning outcomes by McKinsey and Company projects that the average student could fall seven months behind academically, with even worse results for students of color.
Engelman is the primary breadwinner for the family, as her husband is disabled. She says she was only able to work five to 10 hours a week in the spring — with all five kids at home and trying to do distance learning on tablets.
“Mothers depend on children being in school. We can’t oversee online learning and still be effective employees,” she says.
Her sister, Suzanne Sherby, will have two kids back in school —at a private school — but says she was at the salon recently and the hairdresser, a single mother, was panicked, as her kids’ public schools on the north side of Indianapolis have announced they’re not going to open for in-person instruction in the fall. She’ll have no choice but to leave her third grader and eighth grader home by themselves while she works.
More and more school districts are announcing they won’t be opening for in-person instruction in the fall.
The Madison, Wisconsin, school district recently announced it’s going to virtual-only instruction until at least November 3, following a Madison teacher’s union demand for all-virtual schooling until there are no new COVID-19 cases in the city for at least 14 days.
Milwaukee schools will also remain closed for in-person instruction for at least the first part of the fall semester, as will schools in Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta, Nashville, Houston and most school districts in the state of California.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said final decisions will be made on school reopenings the first week in August but said last week: “If the virus stays where it is now in New York and we keep this level of spread, then you can open schools.”
In many states, school districts are meeting this week or next to make a decision: Whether to go all virtual, reopen schools with an option for virtual learning, or go to a hybrid model, with kids in schools only one to three days a week, and learning from home on a tablet or computer the other days.
In New Hampshire, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu announced last week that he was leaving it up to individual school districts to decide whether or not to reopen and whether to require kids to wear masks.
Some southern New Hampshire towns like Nashua are aiming for a hybrid model, with kids only in school one to two days a week, while the school districts that cover the towns in the northern part of the state are planning to open for in-person instruction with all students required to wear masks. Schools in Manchester, the largest city in the state, are planning to open on time in early September.
In Bloomington, Indiana, 1,734 people have signed on to a Change.org petition, asking the school board to delay reopening and to start the school year by reopening with online-only instruction.
Another Change.org petition in Bloomington demands that the school board guarantee that social distancing will be “maintained and enforced at all times,” including on school buses and in classrooms and that students should be transported to low-density schools if needed to allow children to stay six feet apart.
In California, before Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order last week that would keep most California schools virtual only for now, the Los Angeles Teacher’s Union had issued a paper saying teachers shouldn’t return to work until there’s a moratorium on charter schools and the Los Angeles Police Department is “defunded.”
The Durham, North Carolina, teacher’s union has demanded several things before schools can reopen — including a suspension of mortgage payments — and said politicians urging that schools be reopened are “prepared to let [teachers] get sick and die.”
It’s strong rhetoric, and the debate among parents on local Facebook pages about the level of risk associated with the virus is unending.
None of the parents and school administrators interviewed for this story knew of anyone who was sick with COVID-19, and none had heard of any child in their community or state who’d gotten the virus.
And they all said they want their children back in school.
“Most of us are ready to send them back, to go back normally. We need to let our kids have some normalcy,” said Lisa Howe, a mother of a high schooler in Manchester, New Hampshire.