'The current situation is impossible': Parents weigh in on schools reopening

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A mother in Georgia said her sons would return to school when 'the vaccine is taken more seriously and teachers can get it.'

Republican lawmakers often say that American parents are demanding schools be reopened for in-person learning.

But for many parents, the answer to the question of in-person schooling during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is more nuanced.

"Let's call this what it is: Democrats are keeping schools closed to pay off their special interests," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) tweeted Feb. 14. "President Biden is putting parents and kids last."

"Students & parents are hurting but the Biden admin continues to send out contradictory & confusing statements on reopening schools," tweeted Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) on Feb. 17. "No more excuses. Reopen the schools."

But Elizabeth Osborne Fisher, a mother in St. Charles, Missouri, told the American Independent Foundation she chose distance learning for her children "to protect their short- and long-term health" and to "keep them out of the chain of transmission to other people ... until all children are vaccinated to the extent we are able to do so."

Fisher works at home and has a flexible schedule, making it easier for her children to be schooled at home. She feels in-person learning should remain an option for children who lack access to the internet and technology resources and who don't have parents working from home, and those with special needs who require in-person services.

Amanda Ergle of Pineview, Georgia, said she kept her two older sons at home in part because of concerns for her own health: "I have asthma and pre-COPD and would like to minimize my chances of being infected, because if I go down, the whole house will."

Ergle said her sons would return to school when "the vaccine is taken more seriously and teachers can get it."

Aly Miller, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, said her 8-year-old son "left for spring break last year and never went back." Working full-time from home and attending college full-time during the pandemic, she said managing his online learning has been a necessary challenge, but has come at a cost.

"A year later, the idea of going to school makes him anxious," Miller said. "At this point in the year, I hesitate to send him back for just the last few weeks of school ... I think it will re-traumatize him."

She hopes to send him back to school in the fall.

Sheila Connolly of Front Royal, Virginia, has two children in school and two learning remotely. She said, "The two younger children need more attention than I can give and don't work well independently."

She supports masking and social distancing requirements at the school because they allow it to be open safely: "I can't wait for these restrictions to be unnecessary, but I don't want them to be lifted until everyone has had access to vaccines."

Jessica Mesman, who lives in Indiana, said she sent her children back to school as soon as it reopened because she had no choice as a working single parent.

"I would have preferred they enforced [a] stay-at-home order with universal basic income so we could get out of this mess a lot earlier," Mesman said. "The current situation is impossible for working parents, especially those without a co-parent to help juggle everything."

Jessica Schneider is a mother of six in Bennington, Nebraska. Her four older kids attended school in the fall, but transitioned to distance learning over Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"It was a period of higher coronavirus cases in our county," she said, adding that they've since returned to school, but it's a "nuanced" decision: "What works well for one [district] might not be the right solution for another. Access to cleaning supplies, masks, technology, WiFi, etc., are all important factors to consider."

Teresa Rennie, a teacher in Philadelphia and the parent of a kindergartener with special needs, told the American Independent Foundation, "My son has autism. I desperately want him back in school. He already struggles with social norms and I know that being without much peer interaction is going to set him back." But he also has complex medical concerns, so there's no perfect solution, she said.

"As a teacher, I hate virtual teaching and feel terrible about it," she added. "But I do not want to be in a building when our case counts are so high."

For Rennie, the choice is clear: "When the union says it is safe, my son will return."

A February YouGov/HuffPost poll indicates that only 27% of parents want schools fully reopened, while 30% feel they should remain closed and 29% think that teaching should be partly in person and partly virtual.

Data suggests that in some states, COVID cases have surged when schools reopened for in-person learning. But while students and staff alike can contribute to community spread, the World Health Organization indicates that transmission of the virus is generally low among children.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.