How Schools’ Decisions About This Fall Affect Parents’ Childcare Needs

As school districts across the nation attempt to create plans for the start of the 2020-21 school year, parents are starting to worry about what their new daily routine will look like. More and more parents are required to head back to their workplaces and leave the home for long shifts now that quarantine restrictions have started to lift.

When school starts in the fall, many parents who are used to their children going to school for eight hours a day might not experience this as a reality. Schedules could dramatically shift for schools. It’s time to start preparing for what could be an extremely different start to this school year for schools and for parents.

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What Schools Are Trying to Do

Schools, of course, want to keep their students and staff members as safe and healthy as possible. With COVID-19 still playing a role in our daily lives, it is crucial that schools keep safety at the forefront of their planning.

The CDC has released guiding principles asking schools to attempt to do whatever they can to lessen the risk of transmission of Coronavirus. Some of their suggestions include the following:

1.) Social distance as much as possible (in classrooms, on the bus, in the hallways).
Avoid sharing common school supplies (markers, pencils, etc.) and common areas (cafeterias, playgrounds, etc.).

2.) Use a staggered schedule to encourage more distancing at drop-off and pick-up times.

For a full list of CDC considerations, visit their website.

Bottom line: Schools are trying to spread students out as much as possible while attempting to maintain a quality educational environment. This is not an easy task to accomplish.

There are many options for how to open schools in the fall. Each choice has a different level of risk to consider:

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Low Risk

The choice with the lowest risk is to keep students home and do virtual schooling. However, this might not be the most educationally beneficial choice for most students.

Middle Risk

If schools return for in-person classes, districts can lessen risk by staggering the schedules and social distancing the students. This is a return to school that would look very different than what students have experienced in the past.

High Risk

The highest risk is for students to return to school exactly as it was in the past. If schools decide to ignore safety guidelines, keep class sizes large, and avoid social distancing, school would look the same to students. However, this could put many student and staff lives at risk.

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What Parents (and Children) Need

While every parent wants to keep their children safe, these decisions are not easy on families either. It is a tough balance for parents who need their children to go to school so parents can go to work and support their families.

Some schools are asking parents for feedback about options in the fall. Each option affects working parents, especially parents who have younger children who cannot stay home alone.

School Schedules Impact Work Schedules

If we examine some options many schools are considering, it is obvious that every decision will impact working parents.

Virtual School

If students are told they cannot return to the school building and must complete work online, this will affect working parents. For those who work outside of the home, who will be there with their children during the day?

Who will help them log-on and get their schoolwork done? Who will help them when they are frustrated? Who will feed them lunch? Who will make sure they stay on task? Even parents who work from home can be frustrated with this option because they have a job to accomplish that is constantly interrupted by their children’s needs.

Hybrid Schedules

One option to promote social distancing is to split the student population so fewer students are in the building at a time. This might be a half-day schedule or an every-other-day schedule. For parents who work all day, every day, this could be a juggling nightmare.

How can you work Monday through Friday, but your child is in school only two or three days a week? How can you work from 8AM to 3PM, but your child now attends school from 8AM to noon?

What if your third grader attends from 8AM to noon and your second grader attends from noon to 4PM? Parents would definitely have to be creative with their childcare needs in this hybrid situation.

Traditional School Day

If schools can manage a traditional school day, working parents can make a plan just like they have in previous years. This causes the least disruption in family life; however, it could cause schools to be a higher-risk environment. If family members bring home illness, this could be a huge disruption to school, work, and home lives.

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How Do We Balance School Safety and Community Needs?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear solution when we are facing such unknown territory. What is known is that school districts must look at their community needs when they are making their decisions about opening schools this fall.

Family members have to work in order to provide basic needs for their children. If schools create schedules that make it nearly impossible for working parents to keep their jobs, there will be serious consequences for the community.

While educators are making these tough decisions, it is critical to get feedback from the community. Each choice must be weighed carefully.

Safety and educational merit are important, but decision makers must also consider how their decisions will impact families and their entire community structure.

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