Our Five Ring Circus: The Impossible Back To School Decision

Friday, September 4, 2020

The Impossible Back To School Decision

The Impossible Back To School Decision

2020 was a year of firsts for so many of us. It was a year full of making impossible decisions, and doing things we never imagined we would have to do. Like most parents, the back to school decision weighed heavily on our minds for so many months. Do we send our kids back to school, do we opt for virtual learning, do we enroll all of our kids in cyber school, or do we just start homeschooling?

It was truly an impossible decision to make. We weighed the pros and cons of every choice we were offered, and nothing seemed right. We changed our minds multiple times, and didn't really confirm our decision until a few weeks ago. The 2020-2021 school year is going to be even stranger than this past school year, but the impossible decision has been made. 

On Tuesday, our four older kids are going to be starting school in person, five days a week. It was not a decision that we made lightly, considering we have a child who has extra needs. We plan to reassess our decision at the end of each week, and we fully expect more curveballs to be thrown at us over the next 9 months. All we can do is mask up, continuously remind our crew of proper hygience during a pandemic, stop second guessing our decision, and prepare to face every possibility throughout the school year!

Our family stayed fairly isolated during the past few months, but in July, we started to ease back into some of our regular activities. Masks have been mandatory where we live (they still are), and our community hasn't been hit very hard. We were very careful for the first few months, then felt that it was okay to cautiously move forward with some things.

Our lives have changed so much in the past 6 months Grant started working from home in March, and the date to return to the office kept getting pushed back. He isn't returning to the office until 2021, but honestly, may never go back due to working from home saving his company money. Some activities have started back up (like cheerleading and tumbling), but there are restrictions and guidelines. So many other activities and events have been canceled. We are seeing a few family members and close friends, but there are still so many we haven't been around. Our three older kids go into stores now, but they are very responsible. They immediately sanitize their hands before touching anything in our car, and wash up as soon as they get home. And other than Liam's visit to his school, Coen's 15 month well check, and an overnight stay at an empty hotel, the little boys haven't been in public at all - not even to a playground. 

It's definitely nice to start to do normal things again, but everything just feels so different. Based on where we live, returning to school in person seemed like the best choice for our family. Although I was hoping for a hybrid model, I am thankful we were given choices. It was such an impossible choice that kept me up every night for months, but we're standing behind it, moving forward, and hoping - praying - for the best!

The Options

Our school district gave parents several options for the 2020-2021 school year.
  1. Return to school in person, 5 days a week, while adhering to the social distancing guidelines: Mask wearing, frequent hand washing, social distancing, limited locker use, altered cafeteria use, etc.
  2. Virtual learning at home, through Live Streaming Instruction (LSI). Students who chose that option were issued a device and learning materials. They were assigned a regular classroom in K-6, or given a regular schedule in 7-12. Their teachers at school will be teaching the kids who are at school while teaching live for the students at home. Due to the need to equip each classroom with the streaming technology, and train the teachers to use the new technology, the first day of school got pushed back from August 26th to August 31st to September 8th.
  3. The school district's cyber school. It isn't the same curriculum, but students who choose this option remain students at the district. 
  4. Other. Many families chose this option, and opted for a different cyber school or traditional homeschooling.
The good thing about the first 3 options is that students will have the ability to easily and quickly go from one method of learning to the next. If the student is exposed to the virus at school and required to quarantine (which will most likely happen at some point), they can continue learning at home immediately, without much of a set up. Kids are encouraged to stay home as long as possible when sick with any illness, so they can continue to learn at home until they are healthy enough to return to school, and they won't miss any work. (Can we just mourn the loss of snow days for a moment?) And if nothing seems to be happening with the pandemic, and a student chooses to return to school from LSI or Cyber, they can quickly do so!

Why We Said No To LSI

I fully anticipate using LSI at some point during this upcoming school year. Although it's a different concept from the virtual learning we did in the Spring, it just isn't for Lexie, Lily, and Liam. Lexie had so many computer issues, and went from a high honor student for the first three grading periods to, well, NOT. I was very frustrated by the lack of interaction with her teachers. Lily's grades on the other hand, were fantastic, but she screamed and cried every single day. I swear, she developed anxiety at home! (She had the best teacher ever, who went above and beyond to support her.) As for Liam, kids who have IEP's just get lost in the process. He could not differentiate school from home life, and learns best with hands on teaching and therapy. His teachers and therapists were wonderful, but Liam simply refused to sit in front of the iPad. Moral of the story? LSI is not a good long-term solution for any of them! (It was also a LOT for my husband and I to juggle as parents of 5 while also trying to work.)

Why The District Cyber School Wasn't For Us

I'm going to be completely blunt. We have not heard good things about our district's cyber program, so that option wasn't even considered. I wish they would have put more money into making it a great program, because they are losing a lot of money from families choosing to leave for other cyber schools. 

As For The Other

Dylan was cyber schooled for most of this past school year. Cyber School is a great option, but it doesn't work well for all kids. It's also a lot of work for the parents! This option was in consideration, but I'm glad we opted against it. We ran into a major issue while transferring Dylan back to the school district, and I'm really regretting choosing that program, and not digging deeper. Dylan now has to work extra hard this upcoming school year to fix their mistake. 

As for homeschooling, I love the idea of it, and the flexibility, but it just isn't for my kids. If all learning becomes remote again at some point this year, I will be boosting Liam's curriculum (okay, REPLACING) with a homeschool program. Computer-based learning doesn't work for him, so we will do a lot of hands-on learning activities. 

Why We Chose Traditional Schooling

I'm going to preface this by saying that no decison is going to feel right during these unprecedented times. We weighed the pros and cons of each option, discussed how it would work, then chose the best option for our family. It doesn't feel right, but no other option felt right, either. The only option that does feel right is NORMAL, but that's not even in consideration right now!

I shared a lot of the reasons above, but what it came down to was the fact that all four of our older kids thrive in a school environment. Most of all, Liam NEEDS to be in school. There was a lot of growth for him during those 3 1/2 months of learning at home, but there was also quite a bit of backsliding. I am not equipped to provide a full time education and all of Liam's therapies on my own. And if we're sending him to school, his three older siblings may as well go to school since they are responsible and knowledgeable about proper hygiene. (Having a sibling who has extra needs taught them a lot!)

Although their schools are going to feel a lot different this year, they need some semblance of normality. They can't wait to return, but I reminded them to just be prepared for ANYTHING at any given moment. I'm hoping things will go smoothly, but I'm expecting hardships.

How We're Going To Support Our Decision

We're coming out of quarantine, and heading into the new school year in just a few days. Grant and I have already had many conversations with the kids about what to expect, and what they need to do to keep our family, and their teachers and classmates, healthy and safe throughout the year. It's definitely going to be a lot different than previous years, but our kids can do tough things!
  • Masks are required on the bus and in school at all times. There will be mask breaks built in throughout the day while social distancing. Wearing a mask isn't fun, but our kids do it without complaint because it's the responsible thing to do. 
  • Liam, on the other hand, also has a sensory disorder, and will not tolerate anything on his face or head. We have been working with him, but we had to give the school a letter of exemption. Obviously our goal is to have him wear a mask just like everyone else, but we're realistic in acknowledging that it's going to take a lot longer to get him to comply, or may not happen at all. He is a hugger, so we have been teaching him ways to show his love while social distancing! 
  • Dylan and Lexie will be riding the bus to and from school, but Lily's bus is overcrowded. I do drive Liam to and from school each day, so Lily will be joining us both ways this year. It works out well, because this is the first year they will be in the same building!
  • I plan to keep our kids at home any time they seem off or unwell, and if they get sick, they will stay home until they are 100% better. Thanks to the LSI option, we will able to do this seamlessly, and without absence. With both Grant and I at home, missing work isn't an issue for us. 
  • If cases begin to drastically rise in our community, we will most likely be making changes so they can learn at home. 
  • I will be cleaning and disinfecting backpacks, lunchboxes, masks, and water bottles every single night. School supplies will stay at school, and we have another set of supplies at home.
  • The kids will chage clothes as soon as they get home from school.
  • We drilled in hand sanitizer use and frequent hand washing so often that it is routine for our kids now! Thankfully, Liam LOVES to sanitize/wash his hands. We stocked up and reminded our three older kids to use it often!
  • Our schools have certain guidelines for the upcoming year for social distancing. They are truly doing the best they can. The older kids have to limit locker use and time spent in the hallways, wipe down their desk as soon as they arrive at a new room, and use hand sanitizer before starting class. The younger kids will have frequent breaks to do so.
  • Finally, Grant and I plan to reassess our decision at the end of each week so we're all on the same page! If anything needs to be changed, we will do just that. Nothing is permanent!

This upcoming school year is going to be unlike any other. Instead of worrying and complaining, I choose to trust my instincts, and trust my children and their schools. I plan to take things one day at a time, and remain positive. It was an impossible decision, but we stand behind it. This is incredibly hard for everyone - schools, teachers, students, and parents - but we're all in together! 

Are your students learning in person or at home?

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