August, that special month of the year when preparations for getting back to school take priority for parents in the US. Looking for communications from schools with details on the schedules and teacher assignments, planning for shopping supplies during the ‘back to school’ sales, filling the wardrobe with new collections of outfits for the children and a whole lot of preparation for the new school year! For the Indian immigrant families, for whom education is at the top of the priority list, there is always an extra excitement that surrounds the month of August and the term ‘back to school’.
But this year’s routine obviously is not the same. Quite true the COVID-19 pandemic year has a new set of rules for education that has kept the families in the utmost tight spot. The mood is so sober and divided among parents, most of whom are scared that what if the pandemic is still around in September taking tolls when the schools actually reopen. Wearing masks and maintaining social distancing at schools? Parents worry about the practicality of these mandates. Teachers on their part have an equal dilemma of getting exposed to the virus while doing what they love to do. The school administration is, of course, busy preparing safety protocols as mandated by the State for a safe return of staff and children.
Children from different walks of life with different family exposures come to stay at school for long hours. Gym, lunch, bathroom breaks and studies all have to be carried in a safe environment. How much of this is really workable is the concern for everyone.
“August is usually a special month in our family with my son all excited to plan for the ‘back to school’ shopping. Year’s supply of pencils, notebooks, erasers, glue sticks and lunch boxes all at deep discounts will be on sale in Staples, Walmart and Target shops,” says a parent of an eight-year-old in New Jersey.
“You have to be first in shopping for the school supplies, else you will not be left with stocks at the discounted price. The school lists the requirement on its website and my son used to be so meticulous in planning the shopping schedule. This year, though he started planning for the fanfare, we parents are preoccupied with our own fears,” opines another.
Online shopping is, of course, the preferred trend for back to school purchases as well. This year’s top item in the back to school supplies would be face masks and hand sanitizer kits. “Many shops also offer the curbside pickup of orders. Of course, there is no fun for our five-year-old who would have run from aisle to aisle picking her school stuff on normal days,” observes a parent in Connecticut.
Many public schools are still working out details for a safe reopening. Maintaining safe social distance would mean not all schoolchildren will come on all days. Particularly in school districts with a high student-teacher ratio, the plan has to be detailed. In neighbourhoods with thick Indian American populations, the student numbers are usually large.
Some states are still showing rising curves of the new COVID-19 infections. Public debates are heating up in these states about the safe reopening of school. There surely is no clarity in the pattern the schools will be reopened. Some school districts are going with the option to follow a hybrid model, where groups of children will attend the in-person class for restricted hours, say four hours and the rest of the classes will happen online. There are also all virtual models for the fall season prescribed by others. Still, others have left the option to choose either model to parents themselves. Some parents are so sceptical about sending children to schools even for the limited hours that they are looking at options of homeschooling for their kids.
In the new norm, there will not be regular lunch breaks as indoor dining is prohibited. While this is nice considering the safety, the long time they have to spend at schools with no food particularly when they leave the house early in the morning is not a comfortable thought for parents.
We are definitely getting to a stage where nothing serious can be taught in schools this year if the COVID fears still chase us. There are many challenges of online schooling that our children have faced when the pandemic forced us to stay home since March. Many parents fear about restricted learning opportunities for kids when it comes to activities associated with laboratories.
“If we opt out from using the school transport, our pick-up and drop activities will also have to be scheduled alongside our work schedule,” says a worrisome dad.
Parents of children with special needs have their own concerns. Many school services are not accessible in online modes, “that does not give us comfort if the virus is around and we have to send our loved ones to in-person schooling,” says a dad of a 14-year-old child with special needs.
While these debates seem to reverberate across the country what would happen to schools and children in September 2020 will be decided by the uninvited guest — COVID-19. The longer the virus decides to linger on, the tougher will be for schools to function normally. In the meantime, the discussions, debates and preparations won’t stop, but definitely, all seem to sail in the same boat that safety of our children and staff will have to be prioritised and appropriate actions will have to certainly fall in place.