Remote learning for three in the age of COVI-19: Part 1

Meanwhile, officials at New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), with the help of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), recently sent a letter to New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker asking him to add mandatory face masks to the list of reopening guidelines.

“Unfortunately, as the beginning of the school year nears and districts continue working out their reopening plans with parents and teachers, we are seeing disparate mask policies that are not leaving parents or educators confident in the safety of their district’s plans,” the letter states. “In reviewing individual reopening plans with educators in the field,  it’s clear that numerous plans do not go far enough in their mask mandates to ensure the safety of students and educators.”

Protection and safety are the major issues at hand when it comes to schools reopening. One can look no further than states like Florida where the government reopened schools fully with students attending classes like normal. In the first 15 days of classes, 9,000 kids were confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19. As of the end of August, there were 48,730 COVID cases among children in the state including more than 17,000 between the ages of 14 and 17 and almost 13,000 between the ages of 5 and 10. Despite the statistics, during a roundtable meeting with Florida State Gov. Ron DeSantis, President Donald Trump adviser Dr. Scott Atlas said people were being “hysterical” about school reopening.

Hysterical or not, this situation has resulted in parents becoming teachers while working full-time jobs. Hall, now tasked with providing a proper workspace for her daughters, said she’s scheduled job-related meetings for late morning and afternoon and will do most of her work at night. Hall said she wants to be more present for her kids in the mornings.

When public schools finished the 2019-’20 school year via remote learning, however, Hall had to pay out of pocket to make sure her children could learn their lessons.

“My biggest issue was when we first started. They gave me one laptop that I had to share with the three girls,” said Hall. “That was impossible and I ended up having to go and purchase two Chromebooks so that everyone had their own device. The struggle with using one was pretty ridiculous.”

Google Chromebooks go from as low as $200 to as high as $1,000.

“Second problem was having to homeschool them and balance work with giving them the assistance they need with school,” said Hall. “If I have to work for a full workday, their school day happens for most of that day. Kennedy has an IEP [Individualized Education Program] and receives Speech and OT [Occupational Therapy].”

Not many parents are as lucky as Hall is with her ability to spend money for the cause. According to a recent poll commissioned by The Education Trust-NY and conducted by Global Strategy Group, 39% of parents in New York State said they skipped meals or reduced the amount of meals they consume or reduced their child’s meals, which is up from 33% in June. The poll also found that 48% of low-income parents are concerned about access to meals and food for their child this fall, with 62% of parents in New York City alone sharing the same sentiments.

According to statistics from the New York City Department of Education, the school system is home to more than 1.1 million students. More than 40% are Hispanic and 25.5% are Black. Of those 1.1 million school kids, 72.8% are economically disadvantaged and it’s in more ways than one.

In the latest “State of Black America” report distributed by the National Urban League, only 19.7% of African Americans are able to work from home. Overrepresentation in low-wage work increases exposure to the coronavirus. The study also notes that Black and Latino workers are more likely to work jobs that don’t have health insurance (11.5% and 19% respectively) and are overrepresented among the poor in states that didn’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Nevertheless, de Blasio seemed ready to get the school year going. The mayor said that to date, 1,321 school buildings have been inspected, which is close to 88% of the buildings that need to be inspected. De Blasio said the inspections will last right up until school starts and that results will be published for public viewing when it’s done.

“So far, what we’re seeing is overwhelming, because of the hard work that’s been happening over the last three months, that schools are ready,” said de Blasio to reporters during a media briefing. “But we’ll be very clear if there’s any specific school with ongoing work that needs to be done and every individual classroom that has work that needs to be done.”

Hall said that she wants to be active in her children’s learning and despite having assignments that could be done independently, supervision is mandatory.

“Some parents want to plop their kids in front of a screen for as many hours as the school day lasts and it doesn’t work that way,” Hall said. She wants to actively be involved in her kids’ education, but said she won’t know what to teach until “I see what the lessons and schedules look like.”

“During the spring when all of this first happened, the teachers at The Neighborhood School were very good with their scheduling and planning,” Hall said. “Kiara will be moving to middle school so I have no idea what her schedule is going to look like…this is really a crazy way for her to begin. I wanted her to be in school but sadly, it isn’t going to happen.”

Hall also said The Tompkins Square Middle School Principal Sonhando Estwick and Parent Coordinator Shirley Lee-Wong have done a good job keeping parents updated weekly this summer via Google Hangouts and Zoom calls. She believes the meetings have given parents a space to talk and keep abreast of the latest information from the DOE.

But as for that IKEA trip, when asked if she was successful in finding the necessary materials, Hall said that everything was either sold out or out of stock. She had to go elsewhere to find what she needed.

“So I opted for Wayfair,” said Hall. “Aside from the two Chromebooks I purchased? A $100 box of school supplies and $451.94 from Wayfair. Public school ain’t cheap.”

But despite the difficulty of the balancing act, Hall’s mother had nothing but praise for her daughter.

“I know I was blessed because if I was home in Rockaway, I might have been sick with the COVID and that would’ve been very devastating for Tamika,” Yvonne said. “God is a truly awesome God and I’m thankful for God’s blessings.

“She had to work and help her three daughters with their lessons during homeschooling and it was truly a challenge,” continued Yvonne. “She made it through and I have to say that I’m so very proud of her.”

Related Stories from the Black Press:

On the Frontline: School employees speak out – Houston Defender

Atlanta parents share challenges related to working full-time while monitoring their children’s virtual learning – Atlanta Voice

Single Mother Juggles Demands of Distance Learning and Employment – Washington Informer

Parents Face the Challenges of School Closures – Baltimore Afro-American

With The School Year Set To Begin, Black Parents Are Preparing For The New Normal – Seattle Medium