Parenting During COVID-19: Homeschool Pandemic Blues

As students return to school, Columbus parents share their thoughts on education in the time of COVID-19.

Fellow parents, if the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that we really can have it all.

All the time with our kids! All the responsibilities of our jobs! All on top of each other, all the time, with no end in sight!

Welcome to the 2020-2021 school year. Did I mention you also get to be the teacher?

It’s been this way since the middle of March, when our kids were sent home, the state shut down, and the plan was, basically, “good luck with that.” As schools across the city open up, whether in-person, online, or some combination thereof, we find ourselves trying to prepare for a year unlike any other. Of course, with so many unanswered questions, “preparing” is more aspirational than it is practical. After all, how can you really prepare for a school year that may or may not happen?

Columbus City Schools will hold its first day on September 8— a later start than most years as teachers prepare for the first quarter of all-virtual instruction. The district has put tremendous effort into providing resources for kids and families, including free breakfasts and lunches, and Chromebooks for every student. CCS is working on plans for everything from seating in busses, to airflow in classrooms, to quarantine requirements following COVID-symptoms. It’s busy procuring what I can only imagine is an ungodly amount of hand sanitizer and soap. And this to me feels like optimism: these plans mean there is hope that our students can return in some capacity this year.

Even as CCS works on these big picture plans, a thousand questions remain—the ones that matter most to kids. We don’t know yet who my son’s second-grade teacher will be, or whether he’ll actually return to the classroom in November. We don’t know when he’ll get to run around with his friends at recess, or eat lunch in a cafeteria, or chat with his peers about their school projects instead of shouting from six feet away.

As a parent, I’ve learned to set expectations for him gently so that they can be reset as needed. I remember watching Governor DeWine’s press conference when the school closures were announced, telling my son he would be home for three weeks. This is week 24. We’re now looking at a partial opening in week 33 at the earliest.

I don’t blame the schools for this situation. They are doing everything they can to educate children and provide a safe learning environment. Unfortunately, in the days of COVID, these ideals feel diametrically opposed. Parents and kids across Columbus are worn from the challenges, which are hitting us all in different ways.

Nichole Sudal, a mom to two 2020 freshmen—one in Dublin and one starting college—is looking forward to the return to school, even part-time. After a difficult spring that included cancellations of monumental events for her senior, and the loss of some relatives to the virus, Sudal’s family is eager to find a new routine. “We just want things to go back to normal again, to be able to gather with friends, go to events and places soon,” she said.

As difficult as the past six months have been for all parents, those who have children with special needs are in an especially challenging position. Marissa Mutchler Bluth has three children with autism, the oldest of whom was supposed to enter kindergarten in Upper Arlington this fall, where the district is planning a hybrid model. But Bluth worried that being home most days would cause him to regress.

“What he struggles with is being social […] so he absolutely needs to be around other kids,” she said. While Bluth credits the district for doing everything they could to accommodate the family, she ultimately chose private school for the time being. Yet she remains committed to returning to public school, anticipating further challenges when they transition back. “This is a lot of schools to change, especially for a kid that values consistency.”

Let’s not forget the many parents who are also teachers. Lynnette Turner, an English teacher in the New Albany Plain Local district, has two children in Columbus City Schools. New Albany plans to begin full-time in-person instruction in mid-September, so Turner’s husband will supervise remote learning. Turner shared some of her concerns about returning. “I worry about how we are going to manage hallway transitions between classes, restroom use, and most of all, lunch. I do not see how hundreds of students can remove masks and eat safely.”

Like everything concerning COVID, our best bet for the year is probably to let go of our expectations. Turner said that the experience of school this year may help kids grow in new ways. She mentions “time management, problem-solving, coping with distractions, navigating unpredictability, [and] establishing communication” as skills that students will be able to build this year. “These skills are as valuable as academic ones, and often more practical,” she added.

I propose that this year can be the ultimate correction to the era of helicopter parenting: the year of getting by and letting go. Our goal, parents, is to survive, and I mean that in every sense of the word. Let the kids do loud science experiments in the living room while you attend Zoom meetings in the closet. Break every screen time rule, let them wear PJs until 4 PM, and feed them straight sugar for lunch if that will get you through the afternoon. This year, if it keeps you safe and sane, it’s a win.

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