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Our School District Gave Us A Choice: Remote Learning Or Part-Time In School. Here’s How We Decided

The author; her husband, Pavlik; and their son, Simon. (Mira Whiting)
The author; her husband, Pavlik; and their son, Simon. (Mira Whiting)

A few days ago, a father from Arizona pronounced, in a series of tweets, “I’m an ER Doctor. I’m not sending my kids to school in #Arizona during a f---ing pandemic. I’m okay risking my life to treat #Covid patients, but not my kids.”

I’m the mother of a 12-year-old boy, who will be a seventh-grader at a Lexington, Mass. middle school this September. I wish I could be as confident as that Arizona doctor and shout something so definitive to protect my son Simon, my husband, myself and every teacher, administrator and staff member who works in my son’s school. My husband and I are well into our 50s. We’re not high-risk yet but we're getting close.

I’m stressed and a tad terrified. I'm torn over the best approach to take because our town’s school system has asked us to pick, by Wednesday, how our son will attend school this coming year. We can pick either a hybrid option -- in-person one week, remote the next -- or an all-remote version of school. Decide now? That makes me want to scream “but we are in the middle of a (insert profanity here) pandemic”  even though Massachusetts, unlike Arizona, has dramatically decreased its caseload. Who knows what September will bring?

The 100% remote-learning option in Lexington will be called the "Remote Learning Academy," but the school system’s 64-page “Back-to-School Blueprint” emailed to parents June 30 gave minimal information about it. In the hybrid option, the school district says it will use stricter social distancing rules than current state guidelines and require social distancing of six feet apart rather than the minimum of three feet. Mask-wearing would be required. In this option, also, there are too many unknown details.

School officials do not explain how they would minimize COVID-19 spread during lunch periods. Humans must remove masks to eat.

Lexington parents, with different goals, have circulated petitions. One seeks to persuade the school system to include a full-time, in-person option. Another requests that teachers teach their classes to students who are in school while remote students participate via Zoom or Google Meet at the same time, rather than learning on their own schedule. A third, my personal favorite, asks Lexington to give parents more information — and more time — to decide.

This is an untenable situation for everyone, including school district leaders. We get that.

Decide now? That makes me want to scream, 'But we are in the middle of a (insert profanity here) pandemic ...'

“I understand what they’re trying to do because they need to make a plan, and we need information,” said my husband, Pavlik, a project management consultant. “They can’t make a plan without our decision, and we can’t make a decision without their plan. It’s an attempt to break the logjam.”

In other words, this is a dizzying nightmare.

Having to make a choice led to one of our few conflicts during 14 years of marriage. Pavlik prefers the remote-only option. He does not think in-person schooling is worth the risk to us and others, given the information provided.

I prefer hybrid. I ache for my son, an only child, to have in-person, albeit socially distanced, interactions with other kids and his teachers in school rather than contact only via a computer screen. I think it will be better educationally, too. “Simon should get the chance to be back in school again among his peers,” I said, making my case to Pavlik one night, my voice cracking with emotion.

Pavlik’s counter: “I don’t think the experience in school will be very social.” Yes, the middle-schoolers will have to wear masks, and yes, we’re fooling ourselves to think that band or chorus can be conducted in a normal fashion for our music-loving son.

Pavlik and I remained at a stalemate as decision day neared. I asked Simon his view, and he was conflicted. “If I could, I would prefer hybrid," he said.

But given the many unknowns right now, my tween would choose remote learning “because they really haven’t given us a lot of assurances, like how we’re going to socially distance at lunch, like how we’re going to be safe.”

At an impasse, Pavlik and I compromised last weekend. I filled out a Google form and picked hybrid but listed our reservations and questions about safety in a comments section.

I made a separate pact with my husband. We will make a final decision after the school system gives us more information. How could any choice be binding in the middle of a pandemic?

It's hard to remember that we're lucky we have this choice. On Monday, Los Angeles and San Diego school systems, in counties where COVID-19 has lately surged, announced they would start the school year online only. If cases rise anew in Massachusetts, the choice will be made for us.

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Linda K. Wertheimer Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Linda K. Wertheimer is the author of Faith Ed., and an education reporter

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