MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: we’re going back to school!

NICK EICHER, HOST: Well, some of us are, anyway! After what feels like the longest summer break in history, families are finally preparing to get back in the school routine. But for many students—and their parents—school’s going to look a lot different than it did this time last year.

BASHAM: WORLD’s Anna Johansen reports now on the difficult school choices parents are having to make.

ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: Nina Mbezele has two daughters, aged 5 and 10. At first, their Atlanta-area school district offered multiple options: In person classes, online classes, or a combination of both. But then administrators decided to go online only … for the entire first semester.

That was a big problem for Mbezele.

MBEZELE: My husband and I both work.

Mbezele works in healthcare; her husband works at a hotel. So they felt like they only had one choice when it came to their daughters’ education.

MBEZELE: We needed our kids to be in school. We were aware of the challenges and the danger involved with it. But, you know, we just felt like we didn’t have the choice to have them do online schooling.

So their daughters will go to daycare and do school online from there.

MBEZELE: The daycare is providing assistance with having teachers already in position ready to teach them what the elementary school teacher cannot do via the online lesson. 

Mbezele says it’s the best option for them right now, but she’s frustrated. She wasn’t planning on paying $1,000 a month for daycare, indefinitely.

John Bailey is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He says parents everywhere are facing a lot of tough choices.

BAILEY: I don’t think there’s like a single good option here for most parents. So a lot of parents are trying to balance between what’s best for their kids academically and also what they feel like is going to keep them the safest. 

Many parents are worried about their children catching or spreading COVID-19 if they go back to the classroom. A recent study showed that four in 10 parents want a vaccine before they feel safe sending their kids back to school.

BAILEY: And all of that sort of just suggests that again, the fear is very intense for parents.

But if the students don’t go back, parents are worried about a host of other things.

BAILEY: There’s a lot of concerns, I would say, about schools are such a part of the social safety net, particularly providing food security to a lot of families.

They’re also concerned about their children falling behind in school and missing out on social interactions. According to that same poll, parents worry about those two things almost as much as they worry about COVID-19. Because they aren’t sure if online learning is enough.

FLANAGAN: Not all services that children are receiving in the school setting are 100 percent transferable to online settings.

Meg Flanagan is an education consultant. She says that’s especially true for children with special needs.

FLANAGAN: I’m thinking mostly about things like a one to one classroom aide. Or like feeding therapies. Certain kinds of day to day hygiene routines that need to happen during the school day, medical care, behavior, support…

Some families don’t have internet or laptops to even do online classes. According to John Bailey, it’s a big need.

BAILEY: We’ve seen other studies recently that have been estimating that it’s about 6 to 9 million kids who probably lack reliable connection connections and also the devices they need to participate in remote learning.

So a lot of parents are looking for other options. About 20 percent of parents say they’re going to do something different. They aren’t going back to the same school. They’re trying something new.

LOCATELLI: I think at the beginning of July, parents everywhere realized, Oh, wait, the schools are probably not going to be the ones to directly solve the particular issues that we had in the spring.

Alice Locatelli is the cofounder of an education startup called CoPod. It’s a networking website that helps parents form groups called learning pods: A few families band together to do school. Whatever form of school they want. Homeschool, online classes, you name it.

LOCATELLI: Three or four kids go to one person’s house on Monday to another person’s house on Tuesday and other person’s house on Wednesday, which spreads out the caregiving among the parents, and allows the students to have some of the social interaction that they missed in the spring, and also makes it easier for the remote teaching coordination to happen.

Some families are homeschooling. Some are recruiting grandparents to help. Some are doing online classes. Others are going to school in person. Locatelli says each family needs to figure out what works best for them.

LOCATELLI: I think the parents also have to be figuring out like, this isn’t just a school problem. It’s an at home question. And so what are parents comfortable with? And what can they do? And how can I help? And how do we band together as a community?

It’s going to look different for everyone, but she hopes people continue to step up and create solutions instead of waiting for someone else to figure it out.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen.


(Photo/iStock)

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