‘Everybody is so torn‘: Parents must decide soon between in-person classes or remote learning

Back-to-school family talks have never been like this.

Instead of chatting about the usual school supplies, clothes, band and sports sign-ups, parents are now forced to talk about previously unimaginable questions of coronavirus vector-borne transmission projections in schools, medical at-risk assessments of older family members and a jump locally in coronavirus infections.

For school parents across the region and nationwide, who soon have to decide whether to sign up to send their children back to classrooms or agree for months of only virtual learning from home, it’s all a prescription for emotional stress.

“Everybody is so torn,” said Fairfield Schools parent Gina Witko. “And every day we have this conversation.”

The stakes are historically high for all school parents.

“Parents are torn over balancing the challenges of face-to-face instruction during a pandemic,” said Sarah Schroeder, University of Cincinnati’s director of the Learning Design Collaborative in the College of Education.

“Many wonder if instruction of any value will happen in a face-to-face environment where safety concerns and social distancing must come first,” said Schroeder, referring in part to the current plans of some school districts to require all students to wear protective masks and safely maintain personal spacing.

Many public school districts in Butler and southern Warren County are offering parents a choiceof signing up in the coming days to send their children to in-person, classroom learning or a virtual learning option that comes with catch.

Signing up for learning from home includes a requirement from most districts their children will have to learn online for the entire first semester of the 2020-21 school year, into January.

Students in this program will not be allowed to switch back to attending schools in person if for some reason their child is not adapting well to remote learning.

“My children are begging to go back to school,” Witko said.

But, she added, “I know about the fear of a coronavirus rebound.”

And time is running out for her and her children. Fairfield Schools’ deadline is Mondayfor parents to sign up for the at home learning program.

Despite weeks of pondering her options, “I’m still undecided,” she said.

Some parents see no-win scenario

School district officials say the continued coronavirus pandemic gives them no other options but to impose such decisions on school families.

The state-ordered masks and social distancing — and dozens of other health precautions, teaching and classroom scheduling changes being put into place — are forcing schools to re-arrange into configurations never before imagined or tried.

Middletown school officials reversed their previous plan to open schools with a virtual learning option and ordered all of the district’s 6,300 students to learn through home virtual instruction due to local increases in positive coronavirus test results.

ExploreMiddletown will start the school year online. Could others change their plans?

And in Warren County’s Lebanon Schools, officials just changed their plans and will now require all students to join school staffers in wearing masks.

“Schools and families are facing a lot of unknowns as they prepare for the start of the school year, especially with COVID-19 cases surging again in the state,” said Lee Schreiner, president of the Ohio School Boards Association, which represents almost all of Ohio’s 613 public school districts.

“School leaders and teachers are having to prepare for different scenarios, depending on how guidelines and mandates might change. Plans made in June and early July are being adapted for today’s condition.”

At Lakota Schools, which enrolls 16,800 students and is the largest suburban district in southwest Ohio, about 3,000 students have been signed up by their parents for virtual learning for the first semester.

“We understand that the decisions they have to make are difficult, challenging and often feel like a no-win,” said Brad Lovell, president of the Lakota Board of Education who has a child in school in the district.

“The stress they are feeling in making the right decision for their children is not easy and impacts so many parts of their life.”

From parents, he said, “I am hearing over and over, ‘I just want to make the right decision,’” he said.

That’s what Lakota school parent Kathleen Sevilla Strack is trying to do.

“These are unprecedented times. Many Lakota families have spent a tremendous amount of time weighing the pros and cons and agonizing over the best choice for their family,” she said.

“They must also factor in the reality of their particular circumstances such as having an immuno-compromised person in their household, having a child with special needs, or not having adequate childcare to select to select the virtual learning option.”

Mason school parent Kenna O’Sullivan described the mood among “most parents as pensive, anxious, frustrated, and worried.”

“I am just sad because I know neither choice … is ideal for anyone. For me and most families, it has been very stressful to weigh our two choices because the kids will be giving up a lot with either choice,” O’Sullivan said.

Madison Schools parent Aaron Lawson said the decision can be especially tough for parents who both work outside the home.

“As working parents, it is very difficult to monitor our children’s progress. And even with computer access at home, our students are not learning as they would be with face-to-face instruction,” said Lawson, who will send his children back to school.

“For the majority of students, returning to the classroom provides a needed sense of normalcy and nurturing from the teachers.”

In the 10,000-student Fairfield Schools, so far more than 550 families have signed up for virtual learning.

But Witko worries about her children’s whole health should she decide they will learn from home and miss out of their social-emotional development from interacting with peers.

“From a mother’s point of view, I’d like to send them back. It’s so important for them to learn how to be a functional human and you don’t get that in a virtual setting,” she said.

“But I’m still entirely torn.”

School decisions

Across the region school parents are having to soon decide whether their children will start the coming school year either by attending in-person classes or learning at home via virtual learning due to the coronavirus.

In general, school districts are offering two choices: Either in-person attendance or virtual learning from home through the first semester at Lakota; Fairfield, Monroe, Talawanda; Madison and New Miami, Mason and Kings.

Edgewood Schools are requiring a nine-week, virtual learning commitment.

Middletown Schools announced it would be the first locally to require all students to begin the school year through virtual learning.

Hamilton Schools just announced it will soon unveil a hybrid plan option where 50 percent of students would attend classes on Monday and Tuesday with the other half in class Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays would be for online teacher consulting sessions.

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