Back to School: COVID Edition

Arkansas schools have been reopened for one month now. Let’s have an honest, grace-filled discussion about what we can all do going forward to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.

First up, Parents – As a parent myself, I know how hard of a decision this has been. When choosing between in-person learning, virtual learning, or homeschool, there is no good option right now. There may be pros and cons to each, but unless you’re a veteran at homeschooling, none are ideal. You have to do what’s right for you and your kids. This is a no-judgment zone. However, there are a few things you can do to help out your kids and their teachers.

  1. Teach your kids to wear a mask properly. Explain the importance and model good behavior. Have them wear it every time they leave the home. Don’t believe memes that try to tell you that kids can’t do this. They can. Kids are resilient. My five-year-old has worn a mask every time she has left our home since the spring. She’s really good at it now, and your kids can be, too. This is not, however, something that can be taught only at school. It must start at home.
  2. Communicate with your child’s teacher regularly. This is particularly true if your child is learning virtually, but also true of face-to-face students as well. You won’t have the opportunity this year for lengthy in-person conversations, so use email. If something isn’t working for your child, reach out. Teachers can’t help with problems they don’t know about. Don’t sit back while problems continue to build. With that being said, a little patience can go a long way in times like these.
  3. This should go without saying, but just as a reminder, please don’t send your kids to school if they are sick. I know having to keep your kid home from school for a runny nose is a working parent’s nightmare, but it’s absolutely important if you want your school to remain open. You don’t have to take your kid to be tested immediately. Watch for symptoms and contact his/her pediatrician if you’re concerned. If your child has been home since March, there’s a good chance they’ll pick up a runny nose once they’re back around other kids. No need to worry initially, but do keep them home and contact your school nurse for details about when they can return.
  4. Prepare yourself and your kids for if/when they have to quarantine at home. This will happen to lots of families this year. Maybe it’s your child’s entire school building or just their class, but there’s a good chance it could happen to you. Be prepared. Talk to your kids about this possibility. It’s better that your kids know what to expect when it happens. While your kids are learning virtually, keep your kids on a schedule and get them up and dressed at the same time each day. Give them structure, but be flexible when needed. Be encouraging and have a positive attitude. Again, they can do this, but they take their cues from you.
  5. If your kids are virtual learners, please don’t worry about them being left behind. I know you want your kids to be on track with their peers, but this really isn’t a good time to stress about grades. No matter what happens this year academically, your kids will be okay. Once things are normal again, whatever that may look like, your kids will catch up.
  6. Finally, have a little grace, or rather, a lot of grace…..for your kids, for their teachers, for school administrators, and most importantly, for yourself. This is a global pandemic. We’ve never lived through this before. We’re all just doing our best.

Next, Teachers – You’ve been assigned what seems like an impossible task. You didn’t sign up for this. You’re not trained in infection prevention. It’s not your job to keep the economy running. Many of you didn’t get a vote in how to reopen your schools. Many of you weren’t even asked what you needed. Yet, here we are. So what can we do going forward?

  1. To protect you, your family, and your coworkers, wear a mask while at school. I know it’s required of you, and I know you’re wearing it in the classroom, but what about everywhere else? Are you wearing it in the work room, in the cafeteria, every time you have a conversation with another coworker, even if kids aren’t around? I know firsthand that it’s easy to think you’re “safe” with your coworkers. It’s easy to think they’re part of your family. It’s easy to let your guard down when you’re not with your students. It’s easy to just “forget.” Anytime you’re in a room with another person, wear a mask, and ask that they do the same. This is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and others.
  2. Limit your time with other adults at school as much as possible. This is similar to #1 above. The Arkansas Department of Health guidelines state that you are a close contact to an individual testing positive for COVID-19 if you have been within 6 feet of that individual, with or without a mask, for more than 15 minutes in a 24 hour period. You can significantly lessen your possibility of being considered a close contact that results in quarantine, and/or possible illness, if you maintain your distance and limit your conversations with other adults as much as possible.
  3. Be mindful of virtual students and what their needs may be. I know some of your are teaching both in-person classes as well as virtual students. That’s an incredibly difficult task, and I know you’re giving it your all. But the biggest complaint I’ve heard from parents of virtual learners (other than technology complaints, and we’ll eventually work through those) is that their kids feel like second-class students. Their kids don’t feel as if they are getting the same attention as in-person students. Some of this is inevitable, as your attention will naturally focus on the kids right in front of you. There may not be anything you can do differently on a daily basis, but just being mindful of how those students and parents are feeling can sometimes go a long way.
  4. Hang in there. We see you, and we’re rooting for you. Your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed.

Finally, Administrators – We know that you, too, face an impossible task. We know that you didn’t ask to be in this position. We know this is not your choice. You don’t have the resources you need to keep your faculty and staff safe, and you certainly can’t make everyone happy. So what can you do?

  1. Most importantly, listen to your teachers. What do they need? What could better help them do their jobs? Your teachers are putting their health on the line right now, and it’s your job to support them as best as you can. Let them be creative and flexible. When something isn’t working, bring them in to the discussion. Ask them what you can do to make it better. The biggest complaint I receive right now is that teachers do not feel as if their voices are being heard. They’re willing to make this work, but you’ve got to listen to them.
  2. Be transparent. I realize there are HIPAA concerns surrounding the identification of positive COVID cases in your district. However, I believe parents have a right to know how many cases are in their child’s school. Send out weekly emails or post it to your district’s website. Don’t include identifying information, but do let your parents know when cases come up. These parents are choosing to send their children into your schools. Give them the information they need to continue to make that choice.
  3. Be understanding of virtual families. They want to remain a part of your district. Otherwise, they’d just choose to homeschool. Do what you can to support them and include them. Allow your teachers to be flexible with them. I know several families who began the year as virtual students but pulled their child out of their district to homeschool because they didn’t think their needs were being met. If you want these kids to remain in your district, you need to make it work for them. Ask the parents for their input. When something isn’t working, ask both the parents and their teachers for how to make it better. Virtual schooling isn’t ideal for anyone. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can at least listen to their concerns and act accordingly.
  4. Know that we are all in this together. Your staff, your students, and your parents are all doing the best they can. This year is challenging for everyone, and it doesn’t look like things are going to get better anytime soon. Let’s work together to do our best for the kids.

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