COVID safety, deaths cloud school year for parents

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Memphis parent Jacquelyn Yarbrough was so concerned about uneven COVID-19 rules in the public school system that she enrolled her daughter, Tealy, 12, in a private school. Since school began there, a Memphis public school system elementary teacher, a student and a staff member have died from COVID-19. (Courtesy Photo)

By Ahnayah Hughes, Howard University News Service

WASHINGTON ––– As schools continue to adapt to classroom life amid the coronavirus pandemic, parents are divided.  

Some parents want their children in the classroom, which has proven best for learning for most students. Others want their children safer at home with virtual learning, despite the difficulties it poses.  

In Memphis, Jacquelyn Yarbrough wanted her 12-year-old daughter, Tealy, back in the classroom.  So, she enrolled her in Anne’s Catholic School, a private school in Memphis, after years of public school education.

“Because the school is fairly small, I don’t have that constant state of worrying about her safety or if the kids around her are wearing masks,” Yarbrough said. 

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“In public schools everywhere, there’s just been so much back and forth about children being masked up or vaccinated, or about it being a parent’s right to choose, but it’s about doing what’s best for the kids.”

Memphis parent Jacquelyn Yarbrough was so concerned about uneven COVID-19 rules in the public school system that she enrolled her daughter, Tealy, 12, in a private school. Since school began there, a Memphis public school teacher, a student and a staff member have died from COVID-19. (Courtesy photo)

Parents must weave through an array of differing rules and circumstances as they consider the right path for their children.

Some school systems, for example, require masks.  Some don’t.  Some systems, like New York City and Los Angeles, require all faculty and staff be vaccinated.  Others do not.  Finally, there are no FDA approved vaccines yet for children under 12.

Prior to schools’ reopening, the National Parent-Teacher Association, which is comprised of millions of parents, guardians, educators and caregivers, recognized the difficulties the upcoming year would present for parents.  

“National PTA understands that the reopening of our nation’s preK-12 schools during the coronavirus pandemic is vital to ensure the continuity of education, however it should not outweigh the safety and the mental and physical health of our students, educators, school employees and families,” the organization said in a statement.

 “National PTA believes that states and school districts must plan and align logistics, educational strategies and public health approaches into one coherent response. We recognize that there will not be a one-size fits all process for the reopening of schools.”

Parents are justifiably concerned.  

Los Angeles parent Malissa Barnwell-Scott, here with her husband, Marcus Scott, and their two children, said she is concerned about the “political craziness” surrounding this school year. “I feel like people have turned it into something it’s not,” she said. “It’s public health and should be treated that way.” (Courtesy photo)

Since the school year began, student deaths due to COVID-19 complications have been reported in South Carolina,  Kansas, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee. In Minnesota, 10 school staff members and one student have lost their lives after contracting the virus within the classroom. 

Parents and teachers in Chicago Public Schools are expressing their worries over the handling of COVID-19 cases after the parents of two children at Jensen Elementary are believed to have died of complications related to the virus.

Additionally, schools of all grade levels across the nation temporarily closed due to outbreaks among students and staff. 

School districts in Washington and Ohio, among others, have shifted to remote learning until at least mid-October. Others continue to close for short intervals for deep cleaning and disinfection, but the possibility of going fully remote for some schools seems possible. 

According to a survey conducted by the Center for Reinventing Public Education, at the end of July, 41 of the nation’s  largest school districts intended to offer a remote learning option.  Now that school has been underway for over a month in many cities, more than 90 school districts plan to make online learning a viable option. 

Karen Cobbs, a mother in Freehold, N.J.,  said sending her son Kaden, 12, to school was a difficult decision, given that she has underlying health conditions. 

“He really missed the social interaction, and I didn’t want to keep him from that,” Cobbs, 52, said. “I just wanted him to get through the first three weeks without anything happening, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.”  

Kaden caught COVID outside of the classroom, and although he had been cleared to return to school, Cobbs decided to quarantine him for a few extra days to be safe. 

“I would be really frustrated if my kid got COVID because a parent sent their child to school knowing they had been exposed,” Cobbs said. “But the scary thing is that not everyone is as conscientious.” 

Parents and school boards across the nation have gone head-o-head over safety protocols within the classroom before the school year even began. In Philadelphia, parents sued the Central Bucks School Board after its decision not to require masks in the classroom. Meanwhile, in Ohio, parents gathered outside Lake Local School District schools in protest of a new mask mandate. 

“I’m glad that it hasn’t come to anything like that in my own district,” Cobbs said. “But people just don’t understand that their actions may have a greater impact on others. People don’t want to think of doing good for someone else.” 

“You don’t know who other people’s children are going home to when they leave school,” Cobbs said. 

Many parents have said that the communication with their children’s school is vital in easing their worries. 

For, Malissa Barnwell-Scott, a mother of two students in the Los Angeles school system, said her children’s schools have been keeping parents in the loop on normal school activities, but not much regarding COVID and safety practices. 

“I believe that all they say is happening, is actually happening,” Barnwell-Scott said. “I don’t feel in the dark, but I don’t feel like I know enough. I’d like to be a bit more informed. 

“Watching all the political craziness surrounding this, I feel like people have turned it into something it’s not.  It’s public health and should be treated that way.  It affects our kids.”

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