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Column: Sending kids back to school when all the choices are subpar
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

There’s a plastic dinosaur wearing a necklace, a stuffed Minion, a few Lincoln logs and some half-colored pages strewn across the floor next to my desk. Actually, there are a lot more things strewn across the floor, but I’ll spare you the full list. 

My kids aren’t even home full time right now. But I am.  

When the virus first infected our lives, everyone was home all of the time. I found a separate space to work, whether it was the back deck or even the large master bathroom – which most moms know is the only place you might be able to get away from your children.  

They were still noisy, but if I could get a couple of doors between myself and them, I could work while my husband parented. 

Now, I’ve got the whole house to myself. But I’ve also got the risks that come with the rest of the family working and learning in the virus-plagued world outside our house. And there’s no one here to clean up the toys but me.  

Come August, we can choose to send our oldest back to school. Or we can choose to keep him home. 

Come August, perhaps the number of COVID-19 cases will have risen even more, and what makes sense now doesn’t make sense just one month from now. 

It’s hard making decisions in this environment. Thankfully, school officials are preparing for all the possibilities. Here’s what that looks like in my house. 

Possibility one: We send our oldest to school. He drastically increases our family’s potential exposure to the virus. When we first began fostering a little more than five years ago, putting kids in child care earned us quite a few viruses. The kids bounced back quickly. We bounced back slower. With COVID-19, most recover. But spending time with older relatives or anyone medically fragile could now be a very bad idea. Meanwhile, he’s probably learning more academically and socially.  

Possibility two: We keep our oldest at home. We’re all safer, except that I’m home alone with him while he learns and I work. I know us well enough to understand that won’t end well. He likes to learn, until it gets hard. Then we scream at each other. Then no one is learning or working. Sure, I can try not to scream. Then I’m patiently parenting and not working. In most cases here, I’m not getting much work done. 

Possibility three: We send him to the inventive noon to 5 p.m. classroom option offered to Hall County’s K-3 students. Now, we’re home alone together for just a few hours. Only they’re his best few hours, when he has the most energy — enough energy to chase his brother around the house with one of them pretending to be a tiger and the other a gorilla. Trust me, it’s a lot of energy. But by the afternoon, will he be too tired to give school his attention? And if he’s tired, will he learn? Will he behave poorly? Is the reduction in exposure worth the upheaval? 

So, there’s the dilemma of one parent with one school-age kid. Thousands across the county are thinking through these options. Many have multiple children.  

This column might be better if I had some advice for you. That isn’t this column. We’ll just have to settle on suffering through it together. 

In some districts, they’ve decided to start school virtually. For families with two working parents, what is the solution? 

Schools educate children, but they also provide a safe place for them to be during the day. Take that safe place out of the equation and we’ve got a problem. Then again, what’s safe with COVID-19 spreading through families and communities? 

Many wondered as we sheltered in place what kind of “normal” we wanted to return to as everything slowed from its frantic pace (note, I was not one of those people for whom the pace slowed). 

We’re deciding now. Only, any “normal” we find still includes COVID-19. 

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. 

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