Right now, none of us have the answers. Not to the pandemic, not to staying safe and certainly not to what to do about our kids’ education in the fall.
No answers. Zero.
We have options to choose from. But how can you make a solid choice for your child for a future that is so uncertain?
Learning more about what each option might look like, ways that it might impact learning or school services and your family’s whether it’s truly the right fit for your child.
Remember, not all options will be available in all districts or schools. In fact, many public schools are already making the decision that education will be virtual for enrolled students for at least the beginning of the school year.
Returning to in-person learning
Going back to school in any capacity seems to be the major push in many locations in the US. Some districts and schools are returning to 5-days per week of classes. Others will be using a hybrid model, with some days being spent in the school and others being spent learning at home.
For students with special education services, being physically present in the school building could mean more access to needed therapies and support services. Many IEPs and 504 Plans include accommodations and modifications that are truly only effective when provided in-person.
As students return to school, they will likely be seeing friends and teachers again for the first time in over six months. There could be joy and excitement, however students will likely be prohibited from touching each other or getting within six feet. This is also true for interactions between students and teachers.
There is also the distinct possibility that schools could be forced to close again during another coronavirus spike. Students and teachers could also fall ill, each illness requiring 14 days of quarantine at a minimum.
It’s important to note that the pros/cons presented here are possibilities; not all items listed will work for all children and families in the way described.
- More access to support services, like speech therapists, PT, OT, counselor
- Better access to school-provided learning materials
- Food security
- Child care provided during in-school hours
- Ability to see peers and teachers in person
- Semblance of normalcy
- The ability of parents to return to work outside the home
- Masks could be required for most of the day
- Social distancing would be in effect
- Possibly limited supplies due to “no sharing” rules
- Exposure to a significantly larger population of people and families without full background on their pandemic prevention measures
- Need to have back-up childcare in case of a school closure or illness
While there are definite positives to sending kids back to school, this is a choice parents should weigh carefully. Returning to school right now does not come without significant risks.
We all experienced this model in the spring. Admittedly, it was implemented quickly and without smoothing out all the wrinkles.
Learning from home allows students to access the material at grade level and engage with peers via online forums. However, not all students are developmentally ready or personally inclined to do well learning online.
Full-time distance learning anecdotally seems to work better with older, more independent students as opposed to children in kindergarten through grade 2.
Distance learning also means that students would be home 100% of the time, with no in-class days. For parents who need to return to working outside the home, this could add additional expenses to the budget.
In addition, many families are experiencing instability in their lives. Not all families have access to reliable food sources. Some families might be without internet or the technology needed to make distance learning work.
If your student has an IEP or 504 Plan with support services, it’s important to reflect on how this washandled during the spring. Were services continued? Was the plan followed? If not, it’s important to ask how the school or district plans to comply with the legal requirements of the IEP or 504. Some services may need to be modified for online access or implemented by parents. As noted above, many supports and services are truly only viable when provided in-person as opposed to virtually.
- Limited contact with others, less risk of COVID infection
- Ability to supplement as desired
- Flexible scheduling
- Able to learn from anywhere
- Potential for interruptions/modifications to IEPs, 504 Plans
- Less socialization of children with peers, teachers
- Technology complications
- Child care is a requirement, limiting parents’ ability to work outside the home or increasing family budgets
- Impact on children who are not in safe, healthy homes with reliable food or healthcare
Hybrid model schooling
Many schools are allowing parents to choose a hybrid option. In this scenario, several days of learning would be provided at the physical school with additional learning happening at home.
This seems to be a positive model for many families. It allows students to see friends and teachers in school while also remaining in their pandemic safety bubble at all other times.
With students in the school at least part-time, there is a less likely interruption for students with IEPs and 504 Plans.
However, parents are still faced with finding child care or altering their own work schedules to accommodate the distance learning days. For families with multiple children in school at different levels, the ability to streamline and schedule everything to match is essential but unlikely.
Returning to school and expanding your social bubble also could invite additional infection risks. Just two days a week outside the home and with large groups of people in closed, indoor environments could put your child and family at risk.
Schools could still close due to a pandemic spike, with a full return to distance learning. Students and teachers who are infected with COVID-19 or otherwise ill would need to stay home for at least 14 days of quarantine.
- IEPs and 504 Plans more likely to be followed as-written
- Ability to socialize with peers, teachers in limited capacity
- Parents could return to work on days when students are in school
- Still a risk of infection due to large crowds, indoor spaces, shared materials
- Child care is required for distance learning days
Whether you are going to truly DIY homeschool, choose an online homeschool program, join an existing co-op locally or work with a private tutor, homeschooling is something that many families might be considering right now.
You should think about:
- How does my child learn?
- What do I feel confident providing in terms of education?
- What might I need or want to outsource?
- How does my working day look? Can I make it work with homeschooling?
- Are there additional considerations, like therapies or acceleration, that I need to include in my program?
- Would I still need additional child care?
Homeschool laws and regulations differ state-to-state and with DODEA. To ensure that you are in compliance, consult HSLDA.org and your state’s Department of Education.
Many families are also considering hiring a private teacher, either just for their children or as part of a small collective of families. If this is on your radar, consider the cost of this and factor it into your budget.
In addition to the actual teacher, if you hire one, there are also additional costs for materials, supplies, books and any curriculum programs you choose to purchase. Online homeschooling programs, like Time4Learning, also charge tuition.
There are no right answers
Your decision, like every other family, will be deeply personal and driven by unique factors. You should consider:
- Does my child require services that cannot be delivered online?
- Did my child respond positively to online learning this spring?
- Am I comfortable expanding our family’s circle and risking infection by returning to in-person learning/
- What does my job/my spouse’s job require? Is teleworking all or part of the time an option?
- What does our family’s budget look like? Can it withstand additional education or child care costs?
- Do we have a plan if schools close or our family needs to quarantine?