Virtual or in-person classes this fall? Five factors to consider
Parenting in a pandemic presents unique challenges for families. Planning for a return to school in mid-August looms large, as the start date of the 2020-21 school year approaches.
Concerns about student safety, learning loss and socialization are on parents’ minds as they decide to participate in a traditional school setting, opt for virtual class models or seek alternatives like homeschooling.
While administrators work to create new policies and address parents’ questions, the debate continues both in broader societal conversation and individual households.
Weighing factors like the use of masks and social distancing in the classroom versus issues related to supervision, quality of curriculum and student motivation can be overwhelming. Although information continues to change in light of this unprecedented public health situation and school plans are likely to shift in response, parents are still faced with an initial decision to choose a path that best fits their family’s unique needs.
Here are five factors to consider when deciding between virtual or in-person classes:
1) Underlying health conditions: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list underlying conditions such as autoimmune disorders, asthma, diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease as contributing to the severity of illness when a person becomes sick with COVID-19. Ask your pediatrician for guidance if you have questions about your child’s ability to return to class in person this fall. Be prepared to present your school district’s policies, including strategies for social distancing and the use of masks, to help inform the discussion with your doctor.
2) Available supervision while learning at home: Much of the guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations advocating for the return to a traditional setting is based on supervisory issues. Children will need basic, routine supervision to ensure their safety throughout the school day while learning from home. Adult assistance with school subjects will vary depending on the student’s age and selected course of study but additional work offline is a component of many programs. The presence of an adult is also advisable for kids of all ages to prevent household accidents.
3) Professional guidance: Parents are children’s first teachers. However, dealing with unfamiliar subject areas may give parents pause when it comes to teaching academic concepts outside their areas of expertise. Unrealistic expectations, potential for frustration and the inability to leverage other teaching methods based on field experience can also be items warranting concern. Seeking support from educators and other parents can help establish a baseline, manage these issues and create a plan for what success looks like that is age-appropriate.
4) Access to school-based programs and resources: Guidance for children who access services like developmental and speech therapies, English language learners and others who need consistent, specialized intervention may be better served in traditional school settings. Materials like toys, books, games and other manipulatives may only be available through instructional use at school sites. Lack of access to technology may also be an issue that hinders learning from home. Meals will continue to be provided at school cafeterias throughout Oklahoma’s schools but Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits also will be available via electronic deposit this school year, according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
5) Socio-emotional wellbeing: People need people. As social beings, even young children benefit from opportunities to interact with others. A variety of options exist, such as video conferencing like Zoom and virtual classroom experiences, after-school activities, homeschooling co-ops, community activities like church, volunteer groups, etc. as an alternative to typical classroom interactions.
Every family is different, with unique circumstances and children who have varying needs. Talking with school officials, your child’s former teachers, his or her pediatrician and other professionals can help. A family counselor may also help you discuss these important issues so you can come to the decision that is best for your household.
Finally, give yourself grace as you commit to working through these important conversations to help keep your family healthy. Professionals from so many sectors, from education to public health and service providers, are also working to implement best practices at this time. Find more information about the latest in prevention strategies and school recommendations at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.
Jacqueline McDaniel is the executive director for the Oklahoma Alliance for Healthy Families. The Oklahoma Alliance for Healthy Families is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing health care access to all Oklahomans through education, advocacy and coordinated partnerships. For information on the Oklahoma Alliance for Healthy Families, visit www.okhealthyfamily.org.