Wednesday, July 15, 2020

If our kids can't go back to school anytime soon, here's a radical thought: DO-OVER

Ben has a little responsibility chart that hangs on a wall in our kitchen. We've fallen off doing it these last few months or, rather, I have. But the other day, we got around to it and we put on stickers for stuff he'd done: dressed himself, ate his meals, was kind to someone. We both paused at "I enjoyed school." Ben looked at me: "There's no school because of coronavirus," he said, matter-of-factly.

Oh, that pained me. I was aware that he knew that Covid-19 exists, but the simple way he stated that made it seem as if he has accepted that reality—a disturbing reality. Especially because there is a good chance he won't be back in school this fall.  

Across the country, it's the topic on every parent's mind. I read a powerful New York Times Op-Ed yesterday, America Drank Away Its Children's Future, about how the early reopening of states has imperiled our children's education. Perhaps, like me, you've read this well-written viral Facebook post by a dad in Clifton, Virginia (note, it's been pointed out that his math is off—while he states children only die 0.0016 of the time" the correct stat is 0.0016 percent—aka 0.0000016). I've read comments by teachers who fear risking their lives with a return to the classroom, along with ones from dual-income parents who depend on school and who will struggle to support their family without in-class learning. 

I am as distraught as you all are by the thought that my children may not go back to school this fall. I am concerned about the lasting effect on their education because online learning just isn't the same. I am bummed that Max is missing out on work experienced—he'd decided to take the work track next year before the pandemic came along. I am concerned about the lack of socialization. 

Even if our children aren't articulating it, they feel it, too. This is what Max wrote on a paper he filled out on his last day of the spring school term:

We live in New Jersey, when school typically isn't back in session until after Labor Day. There's no word yet from any of my children's schools (they're in three different ones). Since there is a distinct possibility that Max's school will open but it won't be safe for him to return, I had our district coordinator add a couple of lines to the IEP that the team will reconvene to review Max's needs once our governor had decided whether or not school buildings will reopen.  

But here's what I've been pondering: Maybe, just maybe, if the worst-case-but-safest-scenario comes to pass and our children don't return to school, they could get a do-over. Maybe some children with disabilities should be held back for a year. Maybe entire classes should be held back—in a planned way. Curriculums could be rethought, so that material is not completely repeated. And yes, I am dreaming but this is wholly uncharted territory and there is a lot of reassessing, reevaluating, rethinking and reimagining that needs to be done. Why should we expect our students to be able to pick up where things left off when they were last in a class? 

Losing a year of classroom learning is a significant missed chunk of education, particularly so for students with intellectual disabilities who are also missing out on learning life skills, therapies and job training—stuff that we parents cannot possibly replicate at home. Extended School Year (ESY) was established to ensure that students with intellectual disability retain knowledge and skills over the course of the summer. Right now, we could use an Additional School Year (ASY) to make up for what's been lost. 

ASY would be especially invaluable for the students who haven't been able to participate in virtual learning or whose districts are not doing the most fantastic job with the online thing. And sure, now districts have had practice and if kids go back to school but then we revert to quarantining, they may have a better handle on it. Yet the truth is, some districts may never get it together for virtual learning. Or some teachers, to be honest.  

To be sure, holding students back a year will not help parents with the immediate challenges of homeschooling, nor will it help students with the ongoing gap in socialization or therapies. But at least, if parents knew that repeating a year was a possibility that's been planned for, we'd feel comforted to know our children will have the opportunity to make up for lost education. And so what if our children graduate kindergarten, elementary school, high school or college a year later. That will not matter much in the scheme of life. What is a year? In fact, the longer our children are in school, the better. I've heard way too much about the so-called cliff adult children with intellectual disability fall off of once they no longer have the structure of school in their lives.

Parents and teachers alike want children to get ahead in life. But right now, as school teams, districts and our local governments weigh the possibilities for the fall and the 2021 school year, they should also be pondering how students might be able to catch up. A do-over can take the pressure off the decision to return to classrooms. It would be a tremendous relief to parents and to students, too.

I am no education expert. But I do believe that choosing whether or not to send children back to classrooms is not the only choice we should be pondering right now.


  1. A friend of mine in Scott City Missouri told me last night that the Missouri state teachers union emailed his wife; who works for the local school district there as a counselor said that school staff are liable if they get sick with covid.

  2. I like the do over idea. ✅
    I’m finding everything about schools and the anger and mixed responses regarding covid closures and openings very sad.
    I’m sad for kids who should be graduating and sad for special needs kids who are sliding backwards without routines and I’m sad for families that are having a really hard time coping whatever the reason. As discussion begins about opening schools I’m appalled at the disregard for teachers health and well being, for students who are health compromised and for families that have elders at home.
    I’m fortunate that we are at home and thankful that the members of my family are all ok as the world beyond or safe space rages.

  3. I agree. I work with preschoolers in special education program, and their parents would be thrilled if they could do-over this year, and not have to move on to Kindergarten yet.


Thanks for sharing!

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