"Back to school" looks a little different this year. Anxiety is high for parents who are watching the calendar quickly shuffle through the summer months. Pandemic related news seems to consume our daily lives and the conversation about going back to school has come to the forefront. Many school districts are sending surveys to families to see how they feel about sending their children back to school in the fall. While there is no perfect answer and situations are evolving here are some questions, we as parents of children with social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenges will be considering.
“I watch the news or scroll through social media and get instantly anxious. I need to know that my school is doing everything they can to ensure the safety of my children and their classmates. After having them in my house for the last 5 months I hate the idea of them being in the care of someone else. I need the peace of mind knowing that things are being properly sanitized, social distanced and the second something does go wrong that we hear about it ASAP.”
Other things to consider when thinking about your school's protocol:
Is your child or someone in your house considered high risk? Is your back up childcare person in a high-risk category, perhaps your aunt/neighbor is your go-to babysitter for emergencies, but she has COPD?
If your child takes the bus, how will it be handled? Will they increase cleaning procedures? Decrease the number of students on each bus? Will this impact the time your child catches the bus?
What will change if they walk or carpool?
Will every staff member and student be required to wear a mask all day?
Will they have any breaks from the mask? Will your child be able to keep a mask on all day?
What will your child’s day look like?
Will they still have all the same “specials” they enjoy like music lessons and art?
What will lunchtime look like, and are you comfortable with it?
If someone in your child’s school does test positive how will you be contacted? How long would you have to quarantine your child (if at all) before they could return to school?
Do you have the ability to change your schedule should there be multiple incidents of quarantine or school closing?
What is your school’s back up plan in case returning to school doesn’t work well, and cases begin to rise again? Is there a threshold for schools to close?
Can you change your mind during the school year about keeping your child at home or send them to school if the situation gets better or worse?
“My child has ADHD and already had trouble focusing in class if they are not able to work out their energy. If they have to sit in the same seat all day there is no way that they is going to retain anything they try to teach them. It makes me think that maybe going back to school in these conditions can be harmful to their education. At least at home they can take a break and run around our back yard, getting some fresh air.”
How does your child’s level of social interaction impact their mental health?
How has their mental health been during quarantine?
Will your child be able to get the much needed physical activity throughout the day that their bodies require?
What will gym class look like? Will there be recess? Will younger children still be able to play together? Will your older children be changing classes so they get to move around?
Will they get more exercise at school than they do at home or vice versa?
Will your older child feel left out if their friends go back to school and they don’t?
Do they understand the necessary changes that will take place in order for schools to re-open? How will the changes affect their overall well-being?
When your child says they want to go back to school are they talking about seeing their friends or could this be their way of saying they want things to go back to how they were?
Special Services/Mental Health-Related Services:
“I know school administrators have a lot going on right now. I worry that they will be so focused on COVID-19 procedures that they won’t make my child’s 504 and/or IEP goals a priority. We have fought to get kids like mine the education they need and deserve and I don’t want this pandemic to cause that to regress.”
Will your child’s therapy (speech, physical, etc.) continue to be offered remotely or will it be at school? If therapy will be remote even when your child is back in school, does that make a difference to you? If it is in person, will social distancing affect the ability to provide services appropriately?
Is your school district thinking of unique requirements of special needs children when they are setting up plans and protocols or just looking at the school as a whole?
Does your child have unique needs related to their disability? Think about sensory challenges related to wearing a mask or understanding if they have a hearing impairment. Can these needs be reasonably accommodated safely? Can a face shield be allowed in lieu of a mask? What about any anxiety challenges or OCD behaviors? What protections can be put into place to mitigate any anticipated needs?
“Last March we spent hours fighting over when my child had to start lessons and how long they had to work before they could play Xbox. It really affected our whole family dynamics as my other child saw that their sibling was spending more time playing and less time working and wanted to know why they had different rules. I’m not sure I can do that again.”
How well did all of your children manage when they were together learning at home? Was your house conducive to all of your children’s learning needs? Does one need quiet while another needs to move and do you have space where they can both work that out?
Can you keep a child home while sending another to school without undue family conflict? Is it possible to have them on alternating schedules if your school is rotating in school and home learning days?
Your School’s Past Communications:
“It took 2 whole weeks before my school communicated with me after they originally switched to remote learning. It took another 2 before my child had his therapy sessions scheduled. We worked so hard on getting him into a routine he could manage and it has taken the entire summer to get him back on track. It makes me weary to think about sending him back and then having to start all over again with home learning.”
How comfortable are you with your school’s past communication? Do they contact families in a timely manner when there is a problem or are you more likely to hear news via Facebook or from the grapevine? Do you trust them to keep you in the loop about positive tests within the school building or other potential concerns?
How organized was your school when they originally transitioned to remote learning in March and did it improve over time?
Do they sound organized about this year's plan?
What are your other options?
"We had to try a few different things but eventually we figured out a plan where my child excelled at learning at home. They were able to spend more time in the areas they are interested in like science and history and just get through what they needed to complete in the subjects that are painful for them like spelling.”
If your school is offering online learning will you get regular updates from your child's teachers so you're sure they're staying on track and you're available to help them when they need it? How would classes be offered online, at designated times or could they access them at any time? Do the required class times work with your family schedule?
Have you looked into cyber or homeschooling? Do you know of or can you find other families virtually to see if there is a way for you to start a remote learning or homeschooling co-op to support one another and perhaps offer your children some socialization, even if it’s done remotely?
How good is your home internet?
Do your children have the technology they need to learn effectively at home? Do you have reliable internet service fast enough to manage home learning?
Are you tech-savvy? Can you troubleshoot connection issues or internet searches?
If your school is offering an information session to share their plans and answer parent questions our parent panel suggested attending with an open mind armed with the questions that are important to your family. School officials may not have all the answers at the initial meeting so feel free to ask who you should follow up with to get your questions answered and how long you should expect before your concerns are addressed and you get a response. Overall pay attention to how prepared the school officials sound and how they handle your hard questions. Are they respectful that you have important questions and are concerned or are they short or evasive when answering? Remember, you’re an important partner in making any plan that is put into action a success.
You are not in this alone. Every parent is in a similar boat and we want to help you throughout the whole process. Click here to be connected to one of our family support partners who can help talk through concerns or ideas for managing during this challenging time.
Now we'd like to hear from you. Please take a moment and tell us how you're managing and what you need. We'll gather your responses and share them with decision-makers across the state. Share your thoughts here.