Monday, August 3, 2020

Back-to-school plans, back-to-school panic

Like most parents, I'm usually excited to send my kids back to school. This year, that prospect is causing a whole lot of stress. Max's official school reopening plan came out on Friday. It calls for students to be in school from 8:45 to 12:45, no lunch break. Students will mainly stay in their classrooms except for therapy and sensory breaks. There will be a Covid-19 risk assessment questionnaire to be filled out on an app daily, and students will have their temperatures checked before entering the building in temporary tents. The staff must wear masks, and it is "recommended" that students were face coverings or masks; disposable face shields will be provided. 

The virtual option, if you choose it, will involve a Zoom livestream of the teacher talking—but not of fellow students in the class, to protect privacy. We have to let the school know by mid-August if we're choosing the remote option. 

The plan noted that the school had come to this decision because virtual instruction lacked immediate feedback between teachers and students, structure and routine, along with direct access to therapists, social workers and behaviorists, too. This is all, of course, true—virtual schooling has its drawbacks, and may not work in part or in totality for some students with disabilities. But what's also true is that this virus doesn't care about that.  

At least this video, featuring Alabama high school principal, gave me a laugh.

I've been troubled by reports of the coronavirus spreading around camps, including one in Georgia in which nearly half the campers and staff came down with the coronavirus. Masks were not required there. One thing weighing on my mind is whether students at Max's school will wear masks and wear them properly. Even if students maintain a six-foot distance, it's possible the virus could infiltrate the air. And yes, I have pandemic paranoia. So much is still unknown about Covid-19.

Max doesn't have sensory issues with the masks and has been pretty diligent about wearing them; there have been times when he's reminded us to make sure we bring ones when we take walks. It's the other students I worry about. That and the fact that asymptomatic people can spread the virus around, new research shows, as rare as that may be. 

Hygiene can be tricky when you're talking about a school of students with physical and/or intellectual disabilities. Max is not able to efficiently wash his hands alone; he would require help. I'm wary of him going to a public bathroom. And what if a fellow student decides to give him a high-five? 

Max was scheduled to go into the Work Experience Cluster, where he would have started doing some work sampling in school—such as collating brochures for a hospital. But that won't be happening, given that students are staying in their classroom, and it's still unknown what sort of work-oriented activities might be done in class. 

We haven't yet figured out plans for Sabrina (no word from her school, although the goal was to return to school) or Ben (who'll be in preschool but I haven't yet enrolled him). If Max does virtual learning, sending them to schools could pose risks to him, too. Max's mild cerebral palsy likely does not put him at higher risk for complications, I've learned, but a high fever can and has triggered seizures.

Then there's the whole bus situation—no word yet on that. Not that we'd feel at all comfortable letting Max go on a bus; we'd have to drive him both ways.

Max did really well with Zoom classes in the spring, and that was awesome. It's unfortunate that he will not be able to interact with his classmates, per the school's new policy about virtual learning. Max's neurologist recommends he stay at home (this doc is keeping his own children at home, too); I have a call in to the pediatrician to discuss it. 

Given how unpredictable the virus is, it's entirely possible that in a few weeks' time or at some point this fall, our governor will declare that all schools are virtual. Max does want to go back to school, but at the same time he understands that he has to stay healthy. Every parent can only go with the decision that's right for their family. In my heart and Dave's, and in our guts, the decision is already made: Max will do virtual learning. 


  1. Ellen....
    If Max will do virtual learning, then shouldn't Sabrina and Ben do it, as well? What if they, {especially Ben, since he is young}, catch the Coronavirus, and brings it home to Max? Whatever decisions that you make they will be difficult I can imagine, and YOU'VE GOT THIS, Mama. No judgment.... :)
    Peace and Love, Mary Lou

  2. As of today Luke (17, autism, non-verbal) will be attending school in-person. Last spring I wasn't able to do any school work with him due to exhaustion from chemo. As far as transportation is concerned he rides the sped bus which always has a very limited population. Luke attends a regular high school. But the number of students in the essential skills track is small. He just completed 3 weeks of ESY (3 hours a day). While some students and staff were sent home and there was some COVID testing, there were no COVID positive. Luke is also to be doing lots of work related activities - but these won't be happening. Did I make the right decision? I don't know. I know it was a tough one since my immune system is still compromised.

    1. Janet....
      Oh Mama, can I give you a virtual hug? You made a very difficult decision to send Luke to school this year!! GET WELL SOON!! :)
      No matter which road parents take, {virtual learning, in-person classes, or homeschooling}, YOU'VE GOT THIS!! There should be absolutely no judgment from others. Choose Kind, everybody!! :-D
      Peace and Love, Mary Lou

  3. Hi there, I can only imagine the anxiety that you are feeling. I am very sorry. I am glad that you and your husband came to a decision that will work best for Max and your family. Best wishes and sending positive vibes with the new school year and the continued virtual learning for Max!

  4. Seems unfortunate that the school will not allow virtual interaction for students. Many schools are and I think it makes a big difference in how effective virtual schooling is. Sometimes privacy concerns are used as a cover to just not do something that may be more work. There really isn't an expectation of complete privacy at any school.

    If you look on VolunteerMatch you can probably find some virtual opportunities you or Sabrina (if she is interested) could do along side Max as a sort of DIY work experience. Not the same as going out into the community and actually being in a workplace but it's something. Just a thought. My close friend's brother is in a transition program but had 0 contact until the end of the semester in spring. They are not sure what they will do for the fall. He is much more limited in what he can do and understand than Max and there is just no way to explain a virus to him or why he can't continue on with his normal routines and interactions. I worry that while he is not at particular risk he could easily bring the virus back to my friend who does have higher risk issues despite being relatively young.


Thanks for sharing!