Working moms share their plans for back to school

back to school pandemic

Have you made a decision about the upcoming school year? Is there an obvious choice for your family, or are you as uncertain as I am about what the “right” thing to do may be?

A few thoughts that keep running through my head:

  1. Will we send the girls back and risk infection?
  2. Do I keep them home and forgo my income, which means we won’t be able to do anything besides pay the mortgage and groceries?
  3. Can we manage e-learning again? (even if it’s different than last year?)

There’s no right answer. No “should-dos”. We’re all muddling through this the best we can.

I reached out to fellow working moms and parents and asked them these open ended questions:​​​​​​​

  • Share a description of your “normal” life (pre-pandemic): ages of kids, did both parents work, extra-curriculars, etc.
  • What happened to your household during the pandemic? (incomes, working situation, unemployment etc.)
  • What is your plan for back to school?

The parents who responded had very different household situations. I’m glad to be able to share other perspectives and opinions (and lifestyles) in a judgement free zone.

back to school pandemic

Want to read their pandemic back to school plans? Their stories are laid out below.​​​​​​​

Shawna

My husband and I are co-owners of Parasol Financial Solutions, a financial planning and insurance office in Kingston.  We have three kids, 18, 16 and 11.  My 90-year old mother in law also has an in-law suite at our home.  ​​​​​​​

We were a busy family with active volunteer commitments, the teens have part time jobs and our youngest is a competitive gymnast. We were rarely all home together on weekday evenings. 

When COVID-19 arrived, gymnastics came to a halt, but the teens, who work in fast food, were deemed essential and maintained their work schedules.  Financial services are also an essential service and we remained open for business.

Four people work in our office, including myself and my husband. We allowed staff to work from home, keeping only one person in-office to answer phone calls from clients. Thankfully, our office can function electronically almost 100% of the time so we were able to continue our service to existing clients and accept new clients.

We did some work from home on the days we were not in the office, but it was difficult trying to balance the kid’s schoolwork, our work, internet access (we live in a rural setting) and device needs.  Gradually we have increased the number of days and individuals in the office but are only in office 3 days/week each with no more than 3 people at a time. We have a large office space, so it is easier to keep our distance from each other.

What’s next for us?

We expect to return to 5 days a week in the Parasol office in September. 

Our youngest was able to resume gymnastics at the end of June with distancing guidelines in place. She has maintained a 12 hour a week training schedule all summer and it is her only source of social interaction with other kids. It has done her a world of good and she needs this.  She will be heading back to school for grade 6 for in person learning.  She goes to a small rural school where risk is low.

Our middle child will return to high school. He is supposed to be taking part in the Building Construction Internship Program in first semester and we are waiting to hear whether or not it will run. If it does not, his plans for the next two years are out the window and we will have to revisit. Again, he is in a smaller rural school, so I am comforted by this.

Our oldest is supposed to be “off” to college but has decided at the last minute that she would rather take some new online high school classes or redo some to improve her marks and apply to university next year.  She has completed online classes each semester for 3 years and excels in this. She will also continue to work part time.

My feeling is that Dr. Keiran Moore has done an excellent job at educating and guiding KFL&A during the pandemic and has kept our numbers low.  We, as a community, have followed his guidance and if we continue to do so the risk will remain low.  I trust Dr. Moore with his advice and approval of the MOE back to school plan. Will there be cases? Likely, however the mental health risk must be balanced with the isolation risk. My kids will head back to school.​​​​​​​

Bethany

My husband and I are usually both self employed. He sells at various tradeshows in the GTA, I run a home daycare, and we both work on our small acreage farm, Riverbank Farm. Our children are 8 and 4 years old and, pre-pandemic, we were tired but satisfied. 

When COVID arrived, my husband’s income was shut off completely. There were no sales gatherings or tradeshows. 

My daycare was ordered closed for a few days until the province declared us as essential workers; however, all my clients have older siblings who also required care (which I could not provide) or had a parent working from home and made the choice to not send their children to daycare.​​​​​​​

Additionally, my husband is immune suppressed and a very high risk from any illness, never mind COVID, and it was not safe for me to remain open. I had no children in my care from March to May.

What’s next for us?

I will be returning to full capacity (five children) in September. I have relied on the CERB payments in order to juggle bills and buy groceries and am thankful my bank agreed to a few deferred mortgage payments during the peak of Covid isolation. 

My husband is still not able to earn a reliable income. His business, CB Surplus, has been selling online, through it’s FB page, Marketplace and on Kijiji. There is a semi-local flea market holding outdoor events on Sundays that has just reopened where he may be able to make some sales.

I am completely torn regarding the school year. 

My children will be returning to school this September. We are part of the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) and, at capacity, our rural school is only 200(ish) students in grades JK to six.

I was reassured by the UCDSB return plan and know the staff and parents at our school in particular will be vigilant regarding safety. If my children were enrolled in an urban school I believe I would choose to keep them home, simply because the school population would be so large.

There are still so many questions.

My son excelled with one on one, online learning. His problems with bullies stopped. His need to move was satisfied as I could guide him through lessons quickly and teach during his optimum time of day. He misses his friends terribly. He misses other children his age and should be expanding his working knowledge of social interactions. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Will he be picked on more if I keep him home? If I send him, will he struggle again because there are eighteen other students the teacher must assist?  Can he take his mask off for gym?

My daughter is starting JK and is a social butterfly who would have thrived in a pre-COVID type classroom. Kindergarten is where friendships blossom and begin. And she is oh, so, so ready for school. She is also very four and washing hands or keeping a mask on is not going to be easy for her.

Will teachers in masks scare her? Will she learn facial queues and micro-expressions as easily as her peers? She still speaks with an (adorable) lisp – will her speech suffer because it’s muffled behind a mask?

I have many worries this year.

I worry about the teachers. They shouldn’t have to risk their health or their family’s health for my children to socialize.  I don’t believe “self screening” is anywhere near sufficient when it comes to school attendance. 

I worry about the parents whose children have complex behavioural or learning issues and who haven’t had respite or a break since March. Will the classroom supports be there for their children? Will the safety measures be overwhelming for them? Will the routine and new rigidity be too much?

Since I work from home and am able to school my children from the kitchen table, do I have a social responsibility to help reduce class sizes by keeping my children away? It would increase the safety of children whose parents MUST send them – the working single parents, parents who work out of the home, and parents whose children need extra support to learn. 

Since I have daycare children in my home, should I “close our bubble”, keep my kids home, and not add to the Petri dish that is a classroom setting?

And, if I’m honest, I have selfish worries as well. Will the parents needing supports send their children, while “neurotypical” families keep their kids home? Will that lead to a heavily weighted classroom where children like mine are left to figure things out on their own while children who require more are given what little is available? Can I keep my kids home for a month or two so we aren’t part of the learning curve that will inevitably happen when the first bus pulls up to our little country school? 

And I don’t even want to think about the gong show that is the regular flu season. 

My best guess is schools will open, there will be a surge in cases, and we will be back to online learning fairly quickly. 

I just hope it happens to someone else, and not my children. The fact that we are all “someone else” to someone else is not lost on me either. ​​​​​​​

Jessica

I left the workforce to care for my girls (and make sure they were doing their schoolwork!) My husband works for Fusix, providing IT and networking solutions, and he was very busy at the beginning of the pandemic, setting up his business clients to work from home.

Related: Surviving the pandemic with tweens

Before the pandemic hit, we were a very busy family. My husband and I both worked outside the home, and the girls are now tweens and had nine hours of extra-curricular dance classes a week. We would head to those classes four nights a week, often right after I got home from work. (No dinner for me until after 9pm most nights.)

Then it all stopped. No school, no dance, and, for me, no work. I got on CERB at the beginning, knowing my girls don’t have the discipline to focus on learning without some prompting. And it’s been a lifesaver, really. I’ve been able to coach the kids through e-learning and online dance classes, and we’ve stayed safe at home throughout the pandemic.

What’s next for us?

I am applying to jobs left, right and center. My husband is still working – he never stopped. And the girls will go back to in-person learning. They’ll likely even take the bus, if I end up with an outside-the-house job.

Related: Working mom pivots skill set during the pandemic

Working moms share their plans for back to school

We’re toying with the idea of one or two dance classes a week, but I’m anxious about how school will go. Wearing masks all day will be a learning curve for the girls, and may be mentally exhausting for them, at least in the beginning.

Kingston has been fortunate in keeping a very low number of COVID cases throughout this whole ordeal. That gives me some comfort in making the decision to send the girls back to school.

My number one questions is: What happens when an outbreak occurs? Can I just stay home from work for two weeks? Does the whole school shut down? Can I find some financial compensation somehow?

Taking a wait-and-see approach is how we’ve handled most of this pandemic. It’s worked so far, and really, how much control do we have over the current situation?

Making smart choices, washing our hands and wearing our masks is all we can do while we wait-and-see how this will continue to play out.

Your turn:

What do your plans look like for the fall? Share them in the comments, to further the discussion and promote the individuality of all families and households.

No decision is the “right” or “wrong” decision. Let’s support each other and recognize that every situation is unique.

Jess

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