Metro Nashville Public Schools will decide next month what the upcoming academic year will look like, based on coronavirus spread and the city’s reopening status.
Many parents say no scenario seems like a good one. But given the uncertain future, they’re hoping for one that best fits their needs.
Although COVID-19 cases have been rising in recent weeks, local and state education officials say they still expect schools to reopen in August, in some capacity. Metro says it will implement social distancing and sanitizing measures.
But Keri Adams still isn’t comforted.
“The thought of sending my kids into a school building in August is terrifying,” she says.
Adams’ mother is having brain surgery in August, her father has Parkinson’s and she’ll be caring for both of them. She’s grateful Metro appears to be making science-based decisions, but she worries her kids will be required to attend school because they’re not medically vulnerable.
“That’s our struggle right now. I could not live with my children or me bringing COVID to my parents who would likely not survive it.”
Her oldest daughter is in a private middle school and will have the option to learn virtually even if her school reopens. Adams hopes Metro will offer the same choice. That way her two youngest could keep their lottery-assigned spots at an East Nashville elementary school.
But Adams says, if forced to choose, she’ll likely homeschool them to protect her family, though she knows that’s not an option for many parents.
Metro has said it’s weighing three options for the fall: opening in full, opening with social distance restrictions and staying closed. Each corresponds to a phase in the city’s reopening plan.
But another possibility is a “hybrid” option, that combines online and in-person learning. Celina Callahan-Kapoor, whose five-year-old son has developmental disabilities, says that could be the best option for her family.
“You could split it up so that every kid gets two days and then they all come together for one day or something,” she says.
Callahan-Kapoor says her son has regressed significantly without support from his special ed teachers since March. She and her husband both work full-time, and schooling their son and older daughter at home has been difficult.
Every time she or her husband turn away to help their daughter with her school work, “he’ll end up pulling things out of the refrigerator or dropping them on the floor, carving up counters, harming himself.”
In fact, Metro is considering staggering school, in small groups that would alternate in-person and online classes during the week.
But that would still be a burden on parents who can’t work from home, parents who are single, and families in which older siblings spend significant time helping younger siblings do school work, so they can’t turn to their own studies, says Gini Pupo-Walker, a Metro school board member and an advocate for education equity for minority and low-income students.
Flexibility and fairness
With more virus outbreaks expected, she says a lot of energy still must be poured into “strong distance-learning plans.”
“There are probably going to be times, I would imagine, where the district is in session,” she says. “But there are schools or parts of schools that are not.”
Pupo-Walker says school and district leaders want to create flexible and equitable plans for their students. And she praises the mayor’s office for promising to provide all Metro students with laptops, and WiFi hotspots. Up to 30,000 students in Metro Nashville don’t have a computer or internet service at home.
But Pupo-Walker says that still won’t make the home a good place for every student to learn.
“Is it fair to grade them if they don’t have an environment where they can succeed and really access the information? Is it fair to hold other students back that do have access because some can’t?”
Education officials have said grading will resume when classes resume. That is a concern for Keri Adams, the mother contemplating homeschooling to protect her ailing parents.
But she thinks those who bear the greatest burden if classrooms reopen aren’t necessarily kids or their families.
“Teachers are not disease control experts. It’s so much to ask a teacher to be in a classroom trying to teach and also worrying about disease spread.”
She says it’s hard enough keeping a single family safe. She can’t imagine being responsible for an entire classroom of children and their families.