Updated: Jul 14, 2020
In-person school is so alluring. It is a symbol of normalcy, freedom from managing kids 24/7, and for me, the ability to teach. I recently became a substitute teacher who generally takes jobs in special ed classrooms because that is where I am comfortable. But I dream of standing in the front of a general ed class, using everything I have learned for seven years as I sat in numerous elementary classrooms—all the grade levels in elementary as well as art, gym, music and media. As an aide for students who have autism, I accompanied my students to class and was wowed by all the skills and talent that teachers have and access in a moment’s notice. That is what I want to emulate, as I connect with kids who inspire my writing.
But our world, our nation, our community is resting in the cross-hairs of a pandemic. Some areas have contained the virus, but others haven’t. This makes the conversation about returning to school in the fall a cacophony of ideas, facts and suppositions that need to be picked apart and analyzed by every family to determine (or guess) what is best for our kids. The school district wants what is best for our kids, but they also have to consider the health needs of teachers, subs, student teachers/interns, aides, paras, principals, administrative assistants, before & after-care staff, librarians, cooks, custodians, bus drivers, guidance counselors, tutors, speech therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, psychologists, and if you are so lucky, a school nurse. Also, if they have the financial backing to implement new best practices.
There are many moving parts in a school. Kids do not stay in one room; they use the same hallways, gym, cafeteria, art room, music room, media center, computer lab and playground as everyone else. Many schools also rely on parent volunteers which, I imagine, will be unable to contribute now due to protocol limits and liability issues. For students with Individual Education Plan (IEPs), they are often assigned to a special education or resource classrooms which have teachers, paras and aides to provide individualized academic and behavioral support. There could be six to twenty students who co-mingle from different classes and grades throughout the school.
In some states, kids return in August, but in Michigan where I live, we start around Labor Day. Some states have the virus under somewhat control, where others are making records on daily counts of infections and deaths. Therefore, each local school district has so many decisions to make on so many levels. I am not sure if they all have the resources and expertise to find the right answers in time. As in everything, errors will be made, and plans will continue to evolve. Communication between administrators and parents is difficult anyway, but when health and safety of people is at the forefront, it makes it even more important that everyone stays informed and understands what they need to do that may change daily for any plan to work at it’s best.
If students remain out of school, a whole other set of health and mental health concerns arise beyond the need for kids to be someplace safe so parents can work. Life put on hold for an adult is difficult, but depending on their age, a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development could be impacted. What I have seen, is an increase in the use of electronic devices, which is not healthy physically, but also emotionally. Socialization in person is needed for healthy development; what my teen experiences online is not a good substitute. For students with autism, OCD, anxiety, ADHD, depression, cognitive impairments, etc., changes to their schedule and limited support from schools could have life-long consequences, as these students are already striving to keep up with their peers.
Food insecurity and the issue of abuse and neglect are also impacted when schools are closed. I have seen communities, schools and government step in to help with food assistance, but I don’t know if that is everywhere. I do know that school professionals cannot see inside homes to determine if families need support to improve their parenting skills, or in the worst case, see the warning signs in a child so they can intervene to possibly save a life.
Fear and manipulation of data is something that people, organizations, companies and governments have used to manipulate people for centuries. Unfortunately, the issue of the Corona-virus pandemic has not been immune to this, and if anything, it is blown up bigger than it needs to be. I am tired of seeing one-liners in social media that lump people into groups and make claims that their issue is the only critical issue to be regarded when making decisions. So many aspects are extremely complicated, and one impacts another, sometimes exponentially, and sometimes unexpectedly.
Reopening schools this fall, either fully or partially, has risks. As parents, we need to figure out what to believe, what is best for our children, and if we are concerned that the choice we make impacts other people’s health (family and/or community) or our local economy. Back in March, as living in one of the states that first started shutting down schools and the economy, I could not fathom being out of school for a few weeks or a month; not returning at all was barely discussed and not imaginable. Now, I am back in that mystified-confused mindset trying to comprehend what starting the year may look like. However, this time, if our schools gives me a choice, I am wondering how I will know what is best for myself as an educator, and for my child as a student. This decision might be easier for parents of Immunol-compromised children, since they would most-likely keep them home. I desperately want my child to be in school; I don't think my child is immunocompromised.
But, what if she is,
and I just don't
--Nancy Roop received a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Oakland University in April 2020. She researched developmental psychology, linguistics and reading education while studying creative non-fiction writing. She supported students who have autism for nearly ten years. She founded Developmental Texts and is currently writing her first book, The Aquarium with Alex the Storyteller. Its about a fifth-grade student who is passionate about writing stories for peers on the autism spectrum: real world, relatable and relevant.