I’m sending one of my school-age children to school in the fall and keeping the other one home.
Before you ask how I am sure that I’m making the right choice, you should know that I am absolutely not sure at all. Honestly, nothing feels right to me right now. COVID-19 has made every decision I make for my kids feel like life and death, and I’m so exhausted by the uncertainty. All I want to do is to make the right choices for these kids, and it’s so hard to know what those right choices are in the midst of a pandemic.
Our family has been very careful since this all started in March. We rarely venture out, and when we do, we take every possible precaution. In addition to my big boys, I have a little baby in the house. I’ve been trying my best to keep my whole family safe from the novel coronavirus. My initial fear has subsided, but I am still being cautious and smart.
The pandemic is in no way close to over. People are still dying every single day.
Despite that very obvious fact, our district has chosen to return to traditional full-time school in August. Masks optional for students, and only required for teachers or staff when they are within six feet of students.
What. The. HELL.
My kids haven’t even played with anyone but one another since March, and now I’m just supposed to toss them into the cesspool of an elementary school in a few weeks and test our luck? Thankfully, they are also offering a distance learning option. I signed my older son up the first day registration opened.
We will do his school work at home for at least the first semester via computer. He is a great student, academics come easily to him, and we did kindergarten at home, so he’s used to the whole process. I work from home, so I am able to keep him here with me without devastating our family. I’m happy to do it, and the bonus is that every child who chooses the virtual option reduces the class size for those kids who have to go to school in person.
Lucky for me, my kid is naturally reasonable and understands that missing his friends is an unfortunate part of weathering a pandemic. He is patient, and he is doing okay.
If his schooling was the only decision I had to make, I would be resting easy at night, knowing I was doing the right thing for our family. Making a choice for Henry was a breeze.
But I have another child going to school next year. His needs are more complicated, and so is the decision I had to make for him.
Walker is four, and he is going to full-time, in-person preschool. Because preschool is technically optional, I have agonized over this decision. I could just keep him home and hope the world is closer to normal by the time he starts kindergarten next fall.
But it’s not that simple because Walker is autistic. His needs are atypical, just like he is. For over a year, we have been discussing Walker’s need for a full-time preschool program this year. He eased his way in with part-time school last year. I’ve been in contact with the county preschool coordinator since he was barely three years old. Pre-K was always part of our plan to help Walker succeed long-term.
His team of specialists all agree that he needs a year of practice in order to have his best shot at doing well in kindergarten. We need to establish his IEP, and transition him to receiving his speech and occupational therapy through the school system, rather than privately. He needs to learn things like sitting at a table, standing in line, and transitioning from one subject to another.
Preschool is our chance to see if Walker will thrive in a mainstream classroom or if he will do better in a special education class. This year will set the stage for his entire school career, and if COVID wasn’t a factor, I would be so excited to see how my baby will grow and learn this year.
But COVID-19 is a factor, and I HATE IT.
I am typing through tears because I just don’t want to let him step foot inside a school this fall. What if he gets sick? I can’t fathom my choice leading to a serious illness for him.
I’ve been accused of sugar coating our life with Walker because I share so many of his strengths. But I am not sugar coating anything. Life with Walker is not more difficult than life with any other four-year-old. Like every other human being, his problems and struggles will get more complicated as he gets older, but right now, he is pure joy.
He is four, so he is also a pure pain my ass. This morning he refused to leave the house without a jacket, and it was ninety-two degrees outside. Yesterday, he got mad that I made him a cheese quesadilla after he asked for a cheese quesadilla. He is all the way four.
But he is perfect to me. Exactly like he is. In his time at home with me, he has learned how to count to 100 and recognize every number from 1-100 by sight. Walker knows all of his letters and the sounds they make. He has memorized a handful of sight words, and is able to do some simple addition of two small numbers. He knows all the basic shapes, and also a bunch I never even knew about, like a torus (AKA a damn donut. Why is he so extra?) and a dodecahedron (I don’t have an AKA for that one. Google it.) I wish it was only academics that he needed. I would keep him here with me, safe.
But there’s never been a question about Walker’s brilliance. He is smart a whip, and everyone knows it.
But he needs things I can’t give him here. I’m not a speech language pathologist. I am not an occupational therapist. There is not a group of 5 to 10 other four-year-olds here to teach him about group dynamics. He needs a real, trained teacher.
So, while his brother does second grade in his pajamas from the comfort of our home, my sweet, beautiful little guy will be in full-time preschool learning how to be a student.
I don’t know for sure that it’s the right choice, but I hope it is. God, I hope that I have accurately calculated his needs and weighed them against the risk of sending him to school. I hope in the end, we look back and feel like we did the right thing for him. It’s all we want to do.
Every single parent in this country is making hard choices for our kids right now. If you’re like me, you might be making a different choice for each of your kids. There’s no way to be totally sure that we are getting it right, but if you are making school choices that are steeped in nuance and complications, just know that there are lots of us out here, and you are not alone.
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