The decision to send your children back to school next school year is going to be a difficult one, no matter the choice you make. It is important to look at your individual family’s needs versus those of your friends, coworkers, or others. No matter your decision for your family, give yourself some grace as we do not know what the future holds or rather the ‘right decision’ because this is an ever-changing situation with a lot of unknowns.
Here are ten tips to help you as you make your decision:
1. Understand the options that are available to you. This might be a little overwhelming at first because besides the local public school’s options, there are also options in private or home schooling. But understanding your options, both free and paid for, can help with making a well thought-out decision. Be creative and resourceful. Talk to friends to see what they are doing, not because you should follow them, but because they might have come up with something you didn’t think of, or have a sharable resource you didn’t know about.
2. Understand what is most important for your family. Different families have different things they hold important. For some, the emotional toll it would take to send their children to school due to worrying would decrease their ability to work. Similarly, the emotional toll of trying to juggle the children’s schooling from home while also working from home may not be worth it either. What might be important for your family might be different for another.
3. Understand financially what you can do. It’s okay if you cannot afford, either monetarily, emotionally, or time wise, to keep your children home; this is part of the decision-making process. If financially you have fallen on hard times and need to get back to work, you might decide to send your child back to the classroom to at least be able to pay for the essentials your family needs. It is best to sit down with your partner or family members to see who can contribute what, including financial, time, and emotional support. Are there options where you could split the cost or resources with another family? For instance, what if you brought in a retired teacher to work part-time with your children? Is there a local college student who is also taking virtual classes and could stay with your children?
4. Understand your backup plans. What if you send your child to the classroom and there is an outbreak and quarantine is needed? What if someone in your home becomes sick, who will help homeschool the children? If normally Grandma is your backup plan, given the current situation that might not be available. It is best to create these backup plans now, before crisis time where you might not be able to think clearly of your options.
5. Understand the level of involvement each option needs from you as a parent. Sending your children to school face-to-face still requires support and involvement from parents, but even more so if the child is at home. Is your child an independent worker, or do they need a lot of one-on-one attention in order to get their work done?
6. Understand your child’s best learning style. The good news is we got to do a dry run in the spring, so we have a good idea about how much children learn with distance learning. But we shouldn’t only use that information, as we were crisis schooling and there were a lot of scary unknowns. Now though, hopefully we have learned from those situations to have a bit smoother sailing. We also have additional systems in place now that we have had 6 months of planning, versus the literal overnight implementation we did in the spring. But for some children, children who struggle with learning disabilities and require specialized help, the classroom might be a better fit if the parent found they were unable to meet the needs of their child. But another option might be finding a learning disability specialist seeking out in-home employment. Remember, many teachers are not comfortable returning to the classroom and are seeking out these special classroom arrangements. Many local Facebook groups have been set up, and even ads on Indeed or Care.com for these types of educators.
7. Understand the change policy within your chosen learning style. Does your school allow you to change if things don’t work out? If you tried face-to-face, and there are multiple outbreaks, can you fully change back to online learning styles? If a vaccine becomes available can an online student return to the classroom? Would it sway your decision one way or the other if this wasn’t an option?
8. Understand what you can handle emotionally. You have to remember you have a lot going on with yourself, and it is okay if you can’t add ‘teacher’ to your list of duties. There is a reason we have teachers go through schooling and certifications; not everyone is meant to be a teacher. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to send your children back into the classroom, but it may mean you need to find support, either through another family that is homeschooling, a trusted babysitter or family member, or a tutor or teacher outside the classroom. How much stress are you under in your own job? Are you a front-line worker seeing the ugly side of COVID-19 each day? Regardless of your decision to send your children back to school, your own emotional health is important. With the expansion of telehealth, even with crazy schedules and little time, you can now access counseling. You owe it to yourself and your children to be emotionally well, and help is available. You do not have to go at this alone.
9. Understand the health and risk factors of your own family. Does Grandma live with you? Are you working in a high-risk field where you might potentially expose your child’s classroom? Do you yourself have a high-risk condition that could become fatal if you were exposed? It might not be worth the possible consequences to send your child back to school. But if your family is relatively healthy, can quarantine appropriately, then returning to school might be the choice for your family. It might make sense for you to speak with your child’s pediatrician who understands your child’s medical needs, and see if they have a recommendation either way, and understand why they may make that recommendation. Some early childhood diseases that might have occurred years ago and are forgotten could make your child more susceptible; it is important to understand your child’s risk.
10. Understand what the school will require for your children to go back to school and if your child could honestly follow through. Is the school going to require 7-8 hours of mask wearing? If so, how does your child fare when wearing a mask for an hour at the store? Would they feel comfortable wearing it for the required school time? Also, could your child be in a classroom full of their friends, and not be physically close to them? For some children, this would be possible, and for others, just staying in their chair is a challenge during the school day. If your child cannot follow the recommendations, then a decision might be made to not return to the classroom. Work out a backup plan now before it becomes a non-choice.
This decision may be an easy one, and it may be a hard one, and it’s okay if you are unsure what exactly to do. You can only do your best, armed with the best information at the time, to make your decision. As more information becomes available your decisions may change, and in most cases there is flexibility in your decision-making. It’s important we have mercy for ourselves, we are under a lot of pressures all over, and there may not be ‘the best choice’ but at least the one that makes the most sense now. Good luck, be well, and be safe for the 2020-2021 school year.
Telehealth counseling appointments now available! JFS Orlando’s licensed counselors are specialized in various areas and are here to support you. Medicare, Medicaid and almost all commercial insurances are accepted. In addition, we’re one of the few remaining agencies in Central Florida that operates on a sliding fee scale (as low as $55 per session) for those who do not have insurance or have an insurance we do not accept. Call 407-644-7671 to schedule an appointment today!
Ashlyn Douglass-Barnes, LCSW is the Clinical Director and a licensed clinical social worker at JFS Orlando. Ashlyn has worked in a variety of settings including outpatient community based mental health, inpatient/admission psychiatric hospital, substance abuse/DUI, dialysis/medical, and in home/office outpatient therapy.