Back to school – working together!

As families gear up for the return to school this fall, gathering school supplies and buying “back to school” clothes, we are faced with new questions and more uncertainty than ever before. It’s not just the big questions, like when we’ll be able to return to in-person instruction. It’s also the small questions, like what school supplies will best support our kids through virtual learning? Do we even need to invest so much in the usual “back to school” clothing right now? And for some families, the very real questions about finances, paying rent or mortgages, or whether the parents will have jobs to return to at all are making all of this even more stressful. So when the Oceanside Unified board met to discuss the upcoming school year, they faced many frustrated parents from across the political spectrum. Their concerns are all valid.

Quarantine has been tough for families—perhaps even more so for single parents, essential workers, and those with young children. Parents of children with special needs wonder how the school can meet the unique learning needs of their children through a distance-learning option. Children receiving special education services have been particularly burdened by the move to virtual, as there is no substitute for in-person PT, OT, Speech Therapy, or for the kinds of modifications to instruction that optimize the learning environment in person. Military parents and those with small children who have been particularly challenged by virtual education demanded that the school district provide a more complete plan for return to in-person classes.

All of us want students to go back to school in person when it is safe for them to do so.

As a parent of 3 children in Oceanside schools and public health educator, I don’t think it is unreasonable for parents to ask the district for more details on what a return to in-person instruction might look like. We need all stakeholders, but educators in particular, heavily involved in the conversation to tell us what is feasible. The CDC recommendations do not necessarily align with what is possible in our classrooms, on buses, in the cafeteria or physical education classes. Many parents rightfully feel that their children are being treated as guinea pigs given the fact that this virus is still fairly new and we do not have complete data with which to make informed decisions. And sometimes seems as if the facts are changing daily, with the information slanted depending on the source. All of this makes it really difficult to make balanced decisions and protect our kids–both their mental and their physical health.

The data tells us that suicides are increasing in adults, and pediatricians have shared concerns about the ongoing mental health of children with the prospect of longer-term quarantines. As a parent, there is nothing more important to me than the health and safety of my children and family. That safety includes both their physical and their mental health, and it sometimes feels as if we are being forced to choose between the two.

For now, as we all prepare for the return to school with distance learning in place, we need to try to put our politics aside and do our best to show empathy for one another through the tough times ahead. This school year isn’t going to be easy for anyone. Beginning the year with distance learning, we have time to create a comprehensive plan for multiple scenarios that can be updated based on the latest information. That seems like the least we can do to try to help families prepare for what will be a school year unlike any other in American history.

It is going to take all of us working together and thinking creatively to get through the challenges we face. How are you feeling about the upcoming school year given the current number of COVID-10 cases?

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