Back to school MUSD
Students head back to school in the Maricopa Unified School District in a simpler time. File photo

Maricopa parents are facing a decision now with the announcement that Arizona public schools will open in July: send their kids back to school or keep them home?

Some remain undecided as they await details of the reopening plan from both the state, due Monday, and the Maricopa Unified School District.

But if social media is any indication, there are two diverging groups of parents – those eager to send their children back to school and those who say it is too soon – and plenty of opinions in between.

It’s understandable that parents have different views on a difficult situation brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. After all, their children were suddenly sent home for the rest of the school year to comply with the governor’s March 31 stay at home order. Students were forced to quickly adapt to a virtual lesson plan that also challenged parents and teachers.

Some parents struggled with becoming de facto teachers at home. Some came to realize quickly their children struggled with online learning and greatly missed the socializing at school. So far, many parents have worked from home, but many will be back in the office by the start of school. Who will watch the kids if schools remain closed?

At the same time, keeping extended families safe in a pandemic is part of the new normal, too. There is no doubt that healthy children can develop coronavirus, but many do not have symptoms. Those who do get sick have milder symptoms, but severe complications are possible, experts say. Children with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk for severe illness.

More recently, a severe and health-threatening complication has been seen in children, though rare. Called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, it can endanger the heart and other organs. Moreover, children can carry the virus home to parents and grandparents who may be at higher risk due to their age or health condition.

It’s a difficult question, but one for which some parents feel strongly about the answer.

‘Just open the schools’

InMaricopa reported Thursday on two related stories – the governor’s announcement and local school board considerations. Posted on Facebook, they drew dozens of comments from people with strong opinions about the best way to proceed.

The comment with the most likes (18) was from a user named Amanda Aguilar, who favors sending children back to school:

“Teach in class normal,” she wrote. “Be realistic that this is never ever ever going to go away. it’s always going to be part of the rounds …. we just need to deal with it! That’s all :)”

That was a popular opinion, as many parents liked the governor’s decision.

“Teach in class,” agreed two separate commenters, Dawn Brunn and Jasmine Doucette, succinctly.

“In class. As normal,” Lee Morano said.

“Just open the schools,” commented Lisa Pollard Medeiros.

“Fully open, no restrictions,” Robert Geho wrote, “stop the irrational fear the media has infected so many people with.”

Others offered more of an explanation, or conditions, for normal schooling.

”Open the schools as normal, but with extra sanitation precautions,” suggested Jesselee Evans Green. “At my work, we stop every two hours to clean every surface that’s been touched. It only takes a couple of minutes. Kids can help with that by wiping their desks down at the end of the class. Extra hand washing stations around the schools as well …. My kids need to go back to a learning environment that they enjoy.”

“Teach in class but without these restrictions on recess and other ridiculous measures,” Bryan Adams commented. “We are huge supporters of MUSD, but we will opt for homeschooling if school life is going to be a traumatic experience for our kids due to these measures being considered.

‘He does so much better in the classroom’

Jessica Truckner touched on a familiar refrain among some parents who believe their children learn much better in school than online. (Some school officials have said any online learning component moving forward would differ greatly from the virtual program rushed into place for the stay at home order.)

“My younger son is in preschool, he does so much better in the classroom than at home with me,” she wrote. “The hands on, in person teaching is vital for some. He just cannot connect with his teachers via computer screen. My older son, had no problem with virtual learning, but I do prefer him being in school simply because I am not a good educator.”

Brittany Anderson agreed. “My five older kids do so much better learning in the classroom then at home,” , “there is so much things that they want to do besides their class work and for me it’s really hard to keep them in their work.”

“Mine do better in class than online,” Jessica Poore Brisbin added.

“In the end, MUSD is going to have to decide what its priority actually is,” commented McKayandsuzie Jones. “Is it to “keep students, staff, and families safe?” Or, is it to provide the best education we can? That will drive what it ultimately decides to do. In my view, anything short of normalized school is a hollow shell and a shadow of real in-person teaching and learning. I think this wave of kids will be set back years if we do anything less than full normalization.”

Support – and concern – for a hybrid plan

A hybrid plan – a mix of in-school and at-home learning – was favored by several parents, though some had concerns.

“The hybrid option at least initially would be the best choice,” wrote Deb G Burch. “The Corona virus incidents in the community, and especially the schools, should be closely monitored. A rise in virus cases should call for a return to remote classes at once. A slow transition is best, with just 1 or 2 days in the classroom at first.”

“A hybrid is the most relevant and appropriate option,” Michelle Lowman commented. “I’m just not sure where the already underfunded school districts are going to come up with the funds to do everything that needs to be done in both the brick & mortar buildings and/or hiring and training for the online environment.”

“I like the idea of a hybrid structure and an option for fully online learning for those that need it, teachers included. I’m having a hard time believing that any of these circumstances, even in-class learning with modifications, can be structured so quickly though,” wrote Lindsay Wingate. “I’m fully supportive of the public school system, but it is a huge ask. I’m grateful we have school choice right now (to a degree, I know this is a tough situation for working parents) and will be exploring other established online and homeschool options in case I feel it’s the safest and strongest way for my kids to learn in the fall.”

“I think splitting the days with in class and at home could work,” wrote Stacy Needham-Vallejo. “Gotta remember some kids also have anxiety. They have been at home for months without social interaction, this may ease the transition by a couple days a week to be in the classroom with others.”

“Hybrid,” Sam Rafael Morales concurred.

‘My kids are not guinea pigs …’

Some commenters said flatly their children will not be returning to school.

“My son will be a senior this coming year,” Jeffrey Buck wrote, “and we will not be sending him into a classroom environment that is not safe for him until there is a vaccine.

“Teach remotely , already a good amount of parents are saying no, am one of them …my kids are not guinea pigs….,” Franklin Jimenez opined. “how are you gonna keep social distancing in a school ( recreation time, assemblies, lunch , etc) tell me is 100% safe….no one can ! I can’t even imagine the School Districts paying for funerals! Also what about the poor teacher are they gonna get a raise extra work to maintain all this new guidelines? I believe is just best for the teachers to stay home be healthy and collect unemployment cause they will be making more anyways and what teacher wants to feel responsible for the death of any child…..so the answer is no, good luck! P.s. My kids lives are priceless!!!!!”

Dominique Summons was in the same camp: “Remotely”

‘People should have the option’

Others said they believe that whatever the plan, parents needed to have options.

“I think people should have the option to choose what is best for their situation,” Heather Phillips commented.

“I think we need to open them back up if you don’t want to send your kid to school that should be on the parent not the government ugh,” a user by the name of Brittany Anderson wrote. “I have 7 kids and 5 are in school and let me tell you them being in school 5 days a week helps them learn I can teach them how to do chores but that’s about it. If the teachers don’t want to go back to work there are probably parents who don’t want their kids go back so the teachers who work from home teach the kids who want to stay home and the teachers who want to go back to work teach the kids who go to school. Look problem solved.”

“MUSD open the schools as NORMAL,” wrote Joshua Babb. “Provide an online option if parents don’t want to send their kids back.”

Alice Latham Pulliam offered a nugget of wisdom that school district officials are sure to keep in mind as they fashion a return-to-school plan.

“I don’t think there is a one size fits all answer,” she wrote. “Some things work for some families that would not work for others.”

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