By Cathy Jameson
My children will return to their academic lessons in just a few weeks. With Ronan staying home, his siblings, for now, will have the chance to have their classes in the classroom. Pros and cons exist for returning, for staying home, and for opting for a hybrid-teaching model. Before the CDC published their thoughts on the topic, we’d already decided that if given the option, we would allow our children to go back to a school this fall.
While I tend to have a different opinion than the CDC has on other topics, I do agree with what they’ve stated in their most recent report: The in-person school environment does the following:
• provides educational instruction;
• supports the development of social and emotional skills;
• creates a safe environment for learning;
• addresses nutritional needs; and
• facilitates physical activity.
As a trained educator I can attest that, yes, all of that can happen in an in-person setting. One could argue that so does an in-home environment offer each of those also. And it does.
In the past, when I homeschooled, sending my children to school was not the best option for them. Based on several factors, we planned each year for each child according to their individual needs. It was sometimes a very tough decision to make—stay home and teach them with myself, or send the kids to an educational establishment where others took on that responsibility? Yearly, we’d weigh the pros and cons, including Ronan’s special education schooling needs, and make a decision that we prayed was best and appropriate for our child’s growth and development.
The challenge to make a school decision this year is greater. COVID has created massive changes to aspects of everyday life. It affects a great number of both short- and long-term decisions that we, and other parents, have to make. It’s not impossible to make decisions, but given the information we’re provided, feeling confident about them can waiver. That includes feeling confident about knowing what to do for the upcoming school year.
When it starts, this school year will include health checks, physical distancing, and wearing of masks if within a certainly proximity of others. Classrooms and other areas of the buildings will be modified to carefully accommodate staff and students. The daily schedule will be a little different than previous years also. Those changes will certainly make life a little more interesting for them, but I don’t believe that they will deter my children from being active learners in the classroom.
If I find that they do cause problems as the year progresses, I would re-evaluate what we’re doing and come up with a new plan. I’ve had to do that before - pull a child from the educational setting they’re in - and start over again. Never an easy task to do, it is still always an option. Today, based on the information that I currently have from my kids’ school administrators, my mind says it would be ideal to send them back in-person. My heart says the same thing. They did okay with eLearning, but they did not do as well as they could have had life not been interrupted as it was. Other parents may not think the same thing and have less clarity about the upcoming school year. They have reservations about the myriad changes their local educators are proposing.
Weighing both the academic and the health-related risks, if there are any, is challenging. For some parents, making a school decision is now out of their hands. Several counties in several states are starting school virtually with no in-person option. Other places may still have a part-time at home and part-time instruction. A district’s plans could change, though, as California saw just a week ago. That left many families across the state scrambling. I know it left many teachers scrambling, too. Meeting the needs of each student, especially the needs of special education students, will no doubt be one of the most daunting tasks current educators have to undertake.
We’ve had a back-up education plan for our children since their schools closed in the spring. Thankfully, we didn’t need to use it. They didn’t love how their time in the classroom abruptly ended, but each of my children completed their year successfully. For now, they’re finishing reading projects. We’re going through the school supply list seeing what we have and what we need to buy. I’m preparing for the best scenario for my family hoping that things will work out well as they tiptoe back into school. I pray that whatever decisions you have to make, or that were made for you, are ones that help your child thrive.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.