Diana Blankenship Osorio, a Flowery Branch mother of five, said she opened the email about Hall County Schools’ hybrid start to the school year first thing Friday morning and let out an exhale.
“I like that fact that it’s a lower amount of kids,” she said of the plan. “I see that they’re being cautious and watching other counties.”
In the first two weeks, some Hall students will attend in person on Monday and Wednesday, and another group will attend on Tuesday and Thursday. All students will be in class on Fridays. School begins Monday, Aug. 24, and families can choose a virtual option instead.
Students will be split by last name, which concerned Blankenship Osorio since not all of her children have the same last name. She has two children starting eighth grade, a junior in high school, a kid in sixth grade and another in fifth grade.
“It’s trickier in our house,” she said. “They’re going by last names and we have different last names.”
Families with multiple last names can contact their school principals to request a common schedule, according to an official statement from the school district released Friday morning.
But even if all her kids are attending school on the same days, parents like Blankenship Osorio must still make sure the children are supervised during work hours.
Luckily for her, Blankenship Osorio said her part-time job as a real estate photographer allows her to stay flexible, so she can devote most of her time toward working as a stay-at-home mom.
She said she has been monitoring the start of school day-by-day and she hasn’t purchased any school supplies yet, except for masks.
“We’re just waiting because it keeps changing,” Blankenship Osorio said.
Although she is hesitant about reintroducing her kids into an in-person learning environment, the South Hall mother said that type of structure is better for her children with special needs. Three of her five students are Individualized Education Program students, requiring special assistance with speech, reading, writing or math.
“I feel like it’s time for them, especially to get the services they need,” she said. “I have one that’s more high-needs with a social and emotional disorder who can’t work without being around people.”
As plans for the start of school have changed multiple times this summer, some local businesses have begun to make accommodations for their employees who must balance their work with education and supervision of their children. Some have even begun to offer in-office child care.
FX Logistics, a freight brokerage firm in Gainesville, is transforming part of its office into a makeshift “digital learning center,” according to CEO Leesa Stoner. Stoner said the company has set up a designated common area, three offices and a gated outside area for children of employees to work on remote school assignments while their parents work.
The company is even hiring a teacher to supervise the students and help guide their instruction. Stoner said the company has around 10 employees with students in the Hall County School District who will be taking advantage of the program during the hybrid start to the year.
“This is what I would do for my children,” she said. “So, I felt like it was the best thing to do for all of our families here.”
The Gainesville City School System has also made adjustments to its start of the year, opting to go remote until Sept. 8, but Stoner said she is only aware of FX Logistics employees with children in Hall, Barrow, Lumpkin and Dawson county schools.
Stoner said FX Logistics originally came up with the plan last week when Barrow announced an indefinite switch to remote learning — a decision that affected four FX Logistics employees. She said most of her employees supported sending kids back for in-person instruction, but with that option not available to them, she wanted FX Logistics to be able to provide an alternative.
“We didn’t want to lose our valuable team members,” Stoner said. “We wanted to provide an option for them, because it’s particularly difficult for the dual-income families, where both people work, and for single parents.”
Phil Sutton, vice president of Kubota Manufacturing of America Corp., said he has been “pleasantly surprised” with how his staff have looked after their children during the pandemic, juggling both virtual learning and work.
“Generally speaking, in our workforce, the folks have been very resilient with coming up with creative ways to work through that,” he said. Kubota has facilities in northeast Hall and employs hundreds.
Sutton said Kubota has been lenient with employees who need to adjust their schedules and is in the process of rewriting its attendance policy.
“It’s less penalizing to try and make it a little more family-friendly,” he said. “It’ll allow people to have more excused time off.”
Heather Keith, a mother of three students attending World Language Academy, said her employer, a lawfirm in Cumming, has offered leniency. In the spring, Keith said she worked primarily from home, going into the office whenever her husband could get a day off to watch the kids.
Keith said she would not be able to work from home as much in the fall, which has put her family in a difficult situation. She said finding child care for her children was a difficult process, and figuring out the logistics of getting them taken care of for two days a week the first two weeks of school has presented a new challenge.
“I’ve been able to find a place that will work with us, but now I have to turn around and tell the place, ‘I don’t know what I need to do,’” she said. “Am I paying for two full weeks now that I know we’re going to be hybrid? It’s going to be difficult because in my job, we’re backlogged … now that the courts have opened back up and all these hearings are being set again, so I’m really needing to be present in the office during all this. I’m trying to find ways to accommodate everyone in the situation.”
Keith said she was grateful for the regular updates from the Hall County School District, adding that she thinks the district has been “one of the better counties in how we’ve handled things.” But, she added, the rapidly changing schedule for instruction has been jarring.
“Because we keep going back and forth, it’s really causing a lot of stress with nailing down some kind of transportation, after care, care for the days that I’m not going to be able to get them to school, things like that,” she said. “...I ’ve had to just basically prep myself for adjusting to bringing them into the office, working from home, however I have to do that.”