Parents anticipating schools reopening in the fall have more questions than answers. But some don’t need all the answers to decide between an in-person or virtual option.
Rhea Young is committed to sending her son to Young 5’s this fall at Defer Elementary School. He spent the past three years at Barnes Early Childhood Center.
“He’s an only child so school was a great way for him to socialize and gain those skills neither my husband nor I can give him at home,” the Grosse Pointe Park resident said. “… This whole thing has me feeling guilty having an only child, to be honest. He’s become quite clingy. I’ve seen a regression (from him) not being around other kids these last four months. It’s the socialization and being around other kids his age that’s important.”
She is hopeful schools will reopen in the fall and allow her to give her son that socialization while also making it possible for her to return to work outside the home if her employer requires it.
“My husband works outside the home fairly long hours,” Young said. “I’ve been working in the home since the pandemic started. That’s been a juggle as well — trying to work from home and be around a 5-year-old. I feel guilty about the screen time he has had.”
Continuing to work from home while focusing on educating her child also would be a challenge, she added.
“I feel for single parents and homes with two working parents,” she said.
At the same time, Young is concerned about the virus.
“They talk about a vaccine,” she said. “There’s no guarantee it will be effective. … You wonder how long. Are we going to just live like this indefinitely with no promise of there being a solution? I believe it’s a terrible virus. … It’s just the benefits outweigh the risks in our case.”
Allyson Andrews, a Grosse Pointe Farms resident, parent and autism spectrum disorder classroom assistant at Richard Elementary School, supports both returning to school and remote learning. Her concern is the impact of not being in school on the most vulnerable learners, who rely on in-person services.
“You can’t just hand (parents) a piece of paper and say ‘Do this with your kid’,” she said.
Also troubling are reports she has heard from parents about depression rates among 6-year-olds. Not all students can access the resources they need at home, she noted.
“I see both sides to everything,” Andrews said. “My heart has been so heavy. … I want everyone safe and healthy. I’m immunocompromised myself. I want to go back to work. I want kids back in school.”
At the same time, “I don’t want people thinking I am dismissing this pandemic,” she said. “I am not. I think it’s scary.”
Andrews said she is willing to go back to work if there are guidelines.
“I wish there was a middle ground. I want guidelines. I want safety. I don’t want anyone getting COVID. I want everyone safe. But the mental, physical and emotional health of our students is failing, I feel.”
As the parent of a student with special needs — her son, Max, has Down syndrome — Julie Moe has the same concerns. While she fears for the safety of her son, who is entering first grade at Ferry Elementary School, she knows he also will be at risk without the therapies he receives at school.
While Moe, a Grosse Pointe Woods resident, has continued working 60-hour weeks throughout the pandemic and has three other children, the issue goes beyond childcare for her. The therapies Max receives at school were replaced with worksheets during the pandemic. Specialized in-person instruction from a special education expert could determine whether he is able to live independently one day, she said.
“He doesn’t have his therapies anymore and he has no social interaction,” Moe said. “… He hasn’t been out into the world for six months. I’m really concerned because early intervention can really make a difference for kids like him.”
On the other hand, children with intellectual disabilities have one and a half higher chances of dying, she added. For this reason, Moe said she has had to backtrack on the inclusion she has worked so hard for and request he not be placed in general education, but remain in a special education classroom with fewer students where he can receive the socialization and specialized therapies he needs.
Lisa Papas, the mother of four Grosse Pointe South High School graduates and a rising sophomore and senior at South, said she is “firmly in the camp that we need to go back to school in the fall. If healthcare workers can do it, teachers can do it.”
Papas speaks as an educator as well as a parent; she is a choir teacher in Hamtramck Public Schools.
“We pay a lot of money for our Grosse Pointe schools,” the City of Grosse Pointe resident said. “We pay dearly for them. In my opinion, the online experience was not a good one. … To me, we are essential workers. If we want to have doctors and police and firefighters go into work, we need to have our teachers in place so our children can have a learning environment.
“Other people don’t have a choice whether to stay home,” Papas continued. “… So many teachers are refusing to entertain the idea that they need to go back to work. They are literally creating a situation where their jobs will not be there tomorrow. If they refuse to go back to work, we are going to create a situation where we’re decimating public schools.”
Papas is not opposed to an online option, but only as a back-up plan in the most extreme cases when a teacher or student is immunocompromised or if schools are closed again due to a rise in COVID cases.
“I am a teacher,” she said. “I’m not afraid to go back. I look forward to it.”
On the fence
Woods resident Susan Wolfe is undecided about the fall.
Last year at Mason Elementary School, her son received extra help in math to prepare him for fifth grade at Parcells Middle School.
“His math teacher had committed to trying to get him up to a certain grade by the end of the quarter,” Wolfe said. “He got really close to it. The math teacher was staying after school. He was doing math club. … We were making progress with him.”
That ended when families went into quarantine.
Wolfe also noted social regression in her children. Her daughter, who is going into kindergarten at Mason, started disengaging from her friends, she noticed. Even when the strict shutdown ended, it was a month before Wolfe was able to interest her in a playdate.
“There are so many layers to it,” Wolfe said. “Ultimately what it’s going to boil down to for us is we’re going to make the decision based on what is right for us. … Even if everyone says, ‘OK, it’s cool, let’s send them all back to school, it’s going to be fine’ and the numbers (of COVID cases) continue to rise like they have been, we’re not going to send them back to school.”
While Wolfe said she will likely wait until early August to decide, she believes “ultimately they should be in school. I don’t like the online option for everybody. I don’t think it’s beneficial for all learners. I think if kids are capable of self-directed learning it’s a great option, but I think a lot of them are not capable of that. I would prefer them to be in school because they’re happier. But if it’s not safe, I’m going to have to figure out what to do from there.”
If she and her husband opt to keep their children at home, they will choose the GP Online option to make sure the school district receives funding.
“If there’s something offered that works for us, we’re going to support it,” Wolfe said. “I support the teachers. I support the administration. I know the Board of Education has been trashed pretty badly. They’ve been in a bad situation. … I extend grace to them.”
Harper Woods resident Matana Drucker also is on the fence.
“I was leaning toward in-person, but the more I read, the more I’m swaying back toward virtual,” she said. “But I want more information from the district on what each option will look like.”
Drucker has a list of questions she needs answers to before she makes a decision for her 8-year-old daughter, who attends Mason, and 12-year-old son, who attends Parcells.
“We’ve been isolating this entire time because I’m terrified of carrying COVID to my parents or boyfriend, all of whom are high risk,” she said, adding she hasn’t been to a store except for curbside pick-up or to fill a prescription.
“I so wanted to send them back (to school) to be kids again, but I’m also doubtful that in-person school will allow them the freedom to be kids and socialize,” she said.
While the safety precautions are necessary, Drucker said she believes they negatively impact children’s social experience.
“But I’m dreading virtual, especially if I’d be locked in for the entire year,” she added.
All in for virtual
Candice Calderon, whose three daughters are going into first, sixth and 11th grade, said she is committed to the GP Online option this year. Having had positive experiences with remote learning in the spring, she is excited about the opportunity, which she views as temporary.
“Both my husband and I are self-employed,” Calderon said. “We do property management as our family business. We have a little more freedom when it comes to our schedule and availability. We both decided going this route is going to give us a schedule we can start and rely on. If things are going to change with so many variables … it will give us a measure of having something we can control. School won’t be that variable.”
Having her daughters potentially in three different buildings — Grosse Pointe North High School, Parcells and Mason — increases the risk, the Woods resident said. Keeping them home simplifies things.
Furthermore, as a family, “we do tend to stick together a lot and spend a lot of time together. … If I only had one daughter, it would be more of a concern.”
Calderon added she enjoyed being a part of her daughters’ remote learning experience last spring.
“I enjoyed seeing what they were doing on Schoology,” she said. “The kids were in constant contact with their teachers. … I thought the Grosse Pointe staff was extremely supportive. … I do think that the experience we had earlier in the year gave us a good feel for the future.”
Grosse Pointe Shores resident Nicole Nausieda, too, is fully committed to the district’s virtual learning plan next year — for now. She has only one school-age child — a 6-year-old entering first grade at Ferry. Her other children are 3 and 7 months.
“It’s not an easy decision,” Nausieda said. “Maybe something will happen that will make it OK to go to school. That’s always the caveat. As things stand right now, we are committed to homeschooling him.
“I speak on that from a very privileged position,” she added. “We’re a two-parent household. We’re married. I’m a stay-at-home mom and we have the financial resources to provide him with an iPad, paper, pencils, all the stuff at home. He doesn’t need lunch at school. I want to say that we come from a very fortunate position.”
Furthermore, her son has stayed on track with his learning during the shutdown and she is confident she can provide him the resources he needs. She also prefers the stability of a set routine to “jumping back and forth” if schools shut down again.
Another concern is potential exposure to her parents, who miss spending time with their grandchildren.
“Everybody has different circumstances; everybody has different reasons,” Nausieda said. “… We were on the fence for a while. … The more we considered it: are we sending him for my sake or his sake? When I realized it was for my sake, that’s when we decided no.”
Ultimately, the decision came down to safety. In December, Nausieda and her husband almost lost their infant daughter when she was a month old. They thought she had a cold, but when she experienced breathing problems, they took her to the emergency room. She was diagnosed with the respiratory syncytial virus, an illness of the nose, throat and lungs. She spent four days in the intensive care unit and was “one step away from being intubated,” Nausieda said.
“Even if kids aren’t dying, even if kids aren’t suffering too much from COVID, the fact that my husband and I experienced that already, we never want to risk — even if it’s just 1 percent, half a percent — we never want to risk our child in the ICU. … Having experienced that, never again.”
The GPPSS Learning Plan was emailed to parents July 20, and is available at gpschools.org under “District News.” Parents are asked to share feedback by July 27.