• School’s out

    Out for summer
    Out till fall
    We might not come
    Back at all

    ~School’s Out, Alice Cooper, 1972

    School’s out for summer and school districts all over the US are making plans for the fall. Our family is making plans too, and we won’t be sending our kids back to school.

    In some ways, this summer feels like any other. There’s no rush to get up in the morning, no schedule to keep to during the long days. Time is suspended, and that’s no different from the summers our kids have always known, or the summers of my own childhood. But this summer is different, this summer in the midst of a pandemic is a time of uncertainty like no time my children or I have lived through before.

    The surreal feeling began in the spring. I can’t recall when I first heard about the novel coronavirus, the virus that would become a pandemic called COVID-19. It may have been in February that I heard about it in the news. I didn’t expect it to impact me, my family, or my community. Within weeks that changed. By mid-March COVID was here, it was everywhere, and it was serious.

    Santa Clara County, where we live, was the first place in the nation where public health officials issued a shelter-in-place advisory, and soon the order was statewide. Californians were to work from home if we could, and our kids would do school from home, too. We were instructed to stay in our homes and only go out for essential errands — grocery shopping, medical appointments, outdoor exercise, and other necessities.

    Our sons’ high school closed, and at first, we were told it was temporary, a three-week closure that included the week already scheduled for spring break, to give the school time to make plans for the rest of the semester. But we had a feeling. It would soon become second nature, that we would second-guess the official notices coming from government agencies and rely on our own conclusions. We had a feeling school would stay closed, and then it was confirmed, school was officially closed for the year. The rest of the semester would be done online from home.

    The sense of time distortion was widespread. People shared memes on social media about how long the month of March seemed, about losing track of time, about no longer knowing what day of the week it was as each week slipped into the next. For those working from home the distinction between weekdays and weekends blurred or vanished altogether.

    Eventually, it was April, and as we crawled through another long month, we slowly came to terms with the reality that this would be a long haul. We adjusted gradually to new routines, to the way we would live now, to the understanding that things would be this way for the foreseeable future.

    Then it was May and we kept crawling, dragging our kids from their beds to their computers for Zoom meeting classes, struggling to keep to something resembling a regular schedule. We tried to maintain balance, set realistic expectations without throwing all structure out the window. We talked by phone with our kids’ teachers, who were trying to teach our kids from their homes, often while attempting to supervise their own children, who were online with their teachers.

    Finally, it was June, and the school year came to an end. This spring semester felt to many parents (and no doubt to many teachers) like it would never be over. It was as if the calendar had melted and stretched — instead of separate pages we could turn for the distinct months as each one passed, the calendar was one long continuous ribbon, a Moebius strip with no end in sight.

    When the school year did finally come to a close, our district offered families a choice — students could receive letter grades for the spring semester, or choose a Credit/No Credit option, and they would receive credit for the courses they took but the spring semester grades wouldn’t factor into their overall high school grade point average. I filled out an online form to indicate our sons chose the Credit/No Credit option, and with that their junior year was done.

    What will their senior year look like? From conversations with our sons’ teachers, we knew the school was considering options for reopening, and how to do so safely. Students may have staggered schedules to reduce the number of students on campus at the same time and to allow for social distancing, with 9th and 10th graders on campus two days a week, 11th and 12th graders on campus another two days of the week, and no students on campus the fifth day of the week, to give the staff time for extra cleaning. There may be a “hybrid” model or some combination of distance learning and classes on campus.

    I sent an email to our sons’ pediatrician, to ask if there was any medical reason that either of them could be considered at increased risk for complications from COVID-19. I got a reply from another doctor covering for her while she’s away from the office. We should schedule a time to talk with our pediatrician, they advised, because she knows our children best. But they would tell us what they knew generally about the virus. There is no straightforward answer, they said. It’s an individual family decision at this point.

    So here’s what we know. We know there is no cure, the effectiveness of treatments is limited, and there won’t be a vaccine ready before the school year resumes. We know both of us will be sixty years old this summer, and one of us has an underlying condition that causes concern. We know that not all adults in our community are consistently following recommendations, and wearing face masks has become a politically charged issue. Knowing all that, the decision that makes sense to this family is to keep our kids at home. School may reopen this fall, but we won’t be sending our kids back.

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