Photo: Hildeliza Galicia
Siblings Alondra and Daniel do schoolwork from home in Los Angeles.

As schools plan to reopen, California parents are asking themselves if it is better to send their children back to school and risk them getting the coronavirus or keeping them at home to do distance learning.

School districts across California are creating plans to reopen. Some of the ideas set out by the California Department of Education include students attending school in person two days a week or every other week and doing distance learning the other days. In some cases, districts are planning to allow families to decide whether to send their children to school or continue with distance learning from home.

“If I could bubble wrap them, I’d do that,” said Pavanish Nirula, of San Jose, whose 15-year-old daughter will be starting 11th grade this fall, while his 17-year-old son goes off to college.

Since bubble-wrapping isn’t practical, Nirula is trying to be pragmatic. He’s not sure yet whether his daughter’s high school will have in-person classes, but he’s open to it if the school and teachers believe it will be safe.

Weighing the risks and benefits is overwhelming and has left many parents uncertain about what to do, especially since school district plans are still fluid.

“This is worse than having a baby. You don’t know what day it’s going to come; you don’t know what to prepare for; you don’t know if it’s a boy or girl,” said Candise Scott, whose 11-year-old twins attend school in Los Angeles Unified.

Amy Pharis lives in Fresno and has a daughter who will enter fourth grade in the fall.

“She wants to go back to school, and I want to go back to work, but I’m still cautious to this day,” she said. “Whatever Fresno Unified comes up with, I’m hoping and trusting that it’ll be in the best interest for everyone. I’m just really torn. I want her to go back, but part of me thinks it won’t be safe.”

If her daughter stays home to do distance learning, though, Pharis would probably have to negotiate a new work schedule. She works as a hiring manager for Banana Republic and has been off work for the past three months, first on furlough, then on leave.

A nationwide USA Today/Ipsos poll found that 6 out of 10 parents with at least one child in grades K-12 said they would likely pursue at-home learning instead of sending their children back to school in the fall.

Several California districts have sent out surveys to parents to see what they prefer.

A Fresno Unified survey from early June shows three-fourths of parents said they preferred in-person classes with health and safety rules in place, and one-fourth preferred distance learning. A Long Beach Unified survey done in late May and early June found that 59% of parents said they were extremely interested in all instruction happening at school, and 27% said they were extremely interested in all online. Half of those who preferred online said they based their response on health and safety concerns. In Elk Grove Unified, an early June survey showed 57% of parents said they would prefer instruction only happening on campus next year, 13% preferred online only and 29% preferred a mix of online and in-person classes. The district is following up with another survey to get more detailed feedback.

In-person learning and social interaction outweigh the health risks for some parents.

“My kid will be lined up at the gate to go back. He needs that academically and socially,” said Sacramento mom Renee Webster-Hawkins, whose son has dyslexia.

Sharon Wheeler, who lives in Folsom, east of Sacramento, agrees that the structure of a normal school environment is better for her son, who is going into fourth grade and has dyslexia. But she said distance learning has been better for her middle-school daughter, who has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

“For her, I’m hoping for more of a hybrid model.” Wheeler said. “I want her to be able to go and socialize with friends. I want her to have a connection with her teachers. But, at the same time, for getting her schoolwork done, she seems to be happier when she’s in her room.”

Karen Lattin is the mother of a soon-to-be sophomore in Morgan Hill Unified, near San Jose.

“I think even the face-to-face contact with the teachers is important, and having a little more personal interaction that you don’t get over video,” she said.

Petaluma mom Loan Nguyen said for her, the benefits of her children being around their peers outweighs the health risks. Her two daughters, 3 and 5 years old, have been back at preschool for a couple of weeks. At first, she was worried — she even sent them with their own Clorox wipes their first day back. But after seeing all the precautions the preschool is taking, she is less worried.

Nguyen said since the return to preschool, she’s noticed a jump in her younger daughter’s vocabulary. She’s hoping her older daughter will be able to attend kindergarten in person at Saint Vincent de Paul, a Catholic school, in the fall.

“I am weighing the risks, but I feel like mentally, for them, it’s just better to be around people,” Nguyen said.

The health risk to children is the main reason that other parents plan to keep them home.

“I don’t want to think about my daughters going to school and getting sick. It truly scares me,” said Mireya Pacheco, of Los Angeles. Her daughters are 17, 10 and 9 years old. “When we go to the store, they can’t handle having a mask on for just one or two hours outside the house. I don’t think they could have a mask on all day at school.”

Pacheco wants to keep her daughters at home to do distance learning, but she would like teachers to do more live teaching, and she wants Los Angeles Unified to give parents more resources and information to help their children.

Hildeliza Galicia, mother of a 17-year-old and a 9-year-old in south Los Angeles, said she is planning to stay home and help her children do distance learning, even if that means quitting her job helping people clean and organize their houses.

“If it’s going to cost my job for me to protect my kids and stay safe, I would do it,” Galicia said. “That’s the way I would like it until everything is back to normal, and we have a cure or we have a vaccine for us to be protected.”

Others are considering homeschooling on their own. Sacramento mother Rashida Dunn-Nasr has four children, ages 8 to 13. She plans to try distance learning again in the fall, but she said if it is the same as it was this spring, she plans to homeschool. She said communication with the school district during the shelter-in-place order has been difficult. One of her children’s Chromebooks, which the school provided, would not connect to the internet, and her third-grader was suspended from distance learning after the district said she was sending a friend too many online messages.

“I don’t feel comfortable letting them go into a school and trust that the administration, that has not really protected the kids and wasn’t really prepared, will protect the kids in class. I feel like it’s impossible to guarantee to parents that they won’t fall ill,” Dunn-Nasr said.

Many parents do not have a choice. If they have to work, and they have no other place to send their children, their children will have to go back to school or child care.

Ariana Beltran, an electrician’s apprentice from Santa Rosa, said she would homeschool her 6-year-old son if she could, but she cannot afford to do that.

“I don’t really have a choice because I work and I’m a single parent,” Beltran said. “He has to wear a mask while he’s at school, and I’m a little worried about that because it’s going to be hot. I’m worried about him catching it. There’s actually a lot of worries.”

Oakland mother Judith Mendez said she would love to have her sons, 11 and 13, return to school, but she doesn’t believe the school district will have the funds to pay for all the modifications needed to open safely.

She’s also worried about the mental health effects on children returning to school with social distancing.

“This is going to be really traumatic for the kids,” Mendez said. “First of all, they lived through this, and now if they go back, they won’t be able to play with each other or hug each other. That’s going to be a catastrophe.”

EdSource reporter Sydney Johnson contributed to this article.

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  1. Poco 22 hours ago22 hours ago

    In reality this is all moot. No matter what anyone writes regarding this article, the bottom line is if schools across the Golden State open they will soon close. Get ready for distance learning if you are a parent in the camp of sending them back because outbreaks will be rife and both students and teachers will die and a lot will get sick. Those that get sick will then bring it home and … Read More

    In reality this is all moot. No matter what anyone writes regarding this article, the bottom line is if schools across the Golden State open they will soon close. Get ready for distance learning if you are a parent in the camp of sending them back because outbreaks will be rife and both students and teachers will die and a lot will get sick. Those that get sick will then bring it home and Californians who are most vulnerable will be those in poverty that might be living with their grandparents. Whole families will be impacted with death and sickness.

    I’m not sending my son back to school until a needle has been put in his arm with a COVID Vaccine. Statistics? Roll the dice with your child’s life, google New York children that died due to COVID and put your dice away. It sucks, it’s harder, I get it but how do people work during the Summer Break with kids at home? If you can pull it off during June, July and August why can’t you figure it out in September? Again this rant is moot, schools won’t be open a month across the state until they close again.

    Finally, school districts better have lawyers vet out a bullet proof disclaimer because some kids and teachers will die and lawsuits will be filed.

  2. Ismat Kamal 2 days ago2 days ago

    I most certainly would like my 2 grandchildren, one of them will be going to 5th grade and the other to kindergarten at Green School, Dublin, to learn at home with remote tutoring by the school.

  3. Alicia 3 days ago3 days ago

    The first day of school will be in 8 weeks. Surveys were sent out to parents asking if they want Distance Learning or return to school. The majority of the parents that want the students back in school are from communities with the higher rate of Covid-19. The district has "outlined" the teaching plan but not the safety plan. Everything is a recommendation or guideline nothing more. How can parents make a choice without … Read More

    The first day of school will be in 8 weeks. Surveys were sent out to parents asking if they want Distance Learning or return to school. The majority of the parents that want the students back in school are from communities with the higher rate of Covid-19. The district has “outlined” the teaching plan but not the safety plan. Everything is a recommendation or guideline nothing more. How can parents make a choice without details? How can teachers make a choice without details?

  4. Common Sense 1 week ago1 week ago

    Something that has bewildered me throughout this situation is the push to go back to school. Health experts are clear that large gatherings are counterproductive to managing this pandemic. I understand the social-emotional aspect, as well as learning loss, but all of those things can be worked with. Death cannot - it’s permanent. For those of you who have not studied cellular biology or physiology I will bottom line a few critical points: 1 - Hybrid models … Read More

    Something that has bewildered me throughout this situation is the push to go back to school. Health experts are clear that large gatherings are counterproductive to managing this pandemic. I understand the social-emotional aspect, as well as learning loss, but all of those things can be worked with. Death cannot – it’s permanent.

    For those of you who have not studied cellular biology or physiology I will bottom line a few critical points:
    1 – Hybrid models in any form will not keep students and staff safe because of the incubation period, which is up to 14 days. That means that students will be attending school while sick and contagious for a number of days before they even know that they are sick – thus infecting others.
    2 – 25% of people who have been infected never develop symptoms. This means that they will attend school indefinitely while contagious – thus infecting others.
    3 – The COVID19 virus remains active on many surfaces for an astonishingly long time. That means that unless every surface is cleaned non-stop throughout the day people will be exposed. Keep in mind – surfaces are often porous and the virus is so small it can easily hide.
    4 – The virus keeps mutating. This means that antibodies are not conferring immunity in any meaningful way.
    5 – Eventually a treatment and/or vaccine will be found. In fact, there are more than a few undergoing human trials right now. Experts believe a treatment will be available by the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021. That means that students and staff can return to school safely and reasonably expect to live through it.

    So, again, the push to go back to school given the aforementioned COVID19 variables and the fact that a treatment is likely right around the corner bewilders me. The entire world is working on it at a faster pace, and with more money, than when they were trying to send a man to the moon.

  5. Elena Reyes 1 week ago1 week ago

    My son has asthma so I’m scared he might get sick going back to school. He’s doing so much better online. In the classroom, he’s very shy and won’t ask for help, so online is really helping him concentrate on his work.

  6. Will 1 week ago1 week ago

    About 2/3’s of parents surveyed at different california school districts prefer open schools five days per week. The USA Today poll appears flawed. Teachers are concerned about their health though. Day care centers are having to pick up the slack for “hybrid districts.” Parents need to go to work. Schools with big fields are able to spread out their students. Smaller schools are in better shape as well. I prefer school districts not pass the burden on to day care centers.

  7. Gregory Lin Lipford 1 week ago1 week ago

    Really nice job on this story. Also scary to see parents who want to bubble wrap teens and who pose the non sequitur of it being worse than having a baby. But ….. Parents

  8. el 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I don't understand this: and her third-grader was suspended from distance learning after the district said she was sending a friend too many online messages. Unless they were unwanted messages, harassment or otherwise inappropriate, I think this is pretty terrible. Having the kids communicate amongst themselves - even if just socially - is important to their development, and the fun thing about 'online messages' is that you have to read and write to communicate that way. Indeed, … Read More

    I don’t understand this:

    and her third-grader was suspended from distance learning after the district said she was sending a friend too many online messages.

    Unless they were unwanted messages, harassment or otherwise inappropriate, I think this is pretty terrible. Having the kids communicate amongst themselves – even if just socially – is important to their development, and the fun thing about ‘online messages’ is that you have to read and write to communicate that way. Indeed, I might go out of my way to encourage that among my students to encourage fluency of communication.

    There’s no extra cost to the district for the kids to communicate and I hope they reexamine their policy if it’s as draconian as it came across in the article.

  9. Mary Johnson,President Parent-U-Turn 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The story was biased more toward parents who wanted their child to attend school in the campus in the fall. How did the author of this story find the parents who they quote in the story – what area and subgroup of the parents? It matters because then the reader would know if there were diverse voices. It would be nice to have the breakdown of the survey that was quoted – how many … Read More

    The story was biased more toward parents who wanted their child to attend school in the campus in the fall. How did the author of this story find the parents who they quote in the story – what area and subgroup of the parents? It matters because then the reader would know if there were diverse voices. It would be nice to have the breakdown of the survey that was quoted – how many parents and caregivers from each school district returned the survey. In most districts, less than 50% mail or email surveys back to the schools, and districts base their decision on 1/3 of the parents.

  10. James Lynett 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Please do a survey of parents about their kids returning to school if there are infected kids and staff present. If you do not do testing and tracing at school, it will not be safe. That probably costs too much so just trust us, “That it will be safe.” Even though if we don’t test before school opens, we won’t know who has it and who doesn’t.

  11. Todd Maddison 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Great summary of the plans going on throughout California - appreciate the reporting. Here in Oceanside we've seen 53% of parents preferring traditional school this fall. It's unknown how that can be done safely, the willingness of parents to send their kids back full time may change (more, or less...) as things change, but right now that's what the majority want. Our district did a tremendously good job of getting parent input on developing their plan, but when … Read More

    Great summary of the plans going on throughout California – appreciate the reporting.

    Here in Oceanside we’ve seen 53% of parents preferring traditional school this fall.

    It’s unknown how that can be done safely, the willingness of parents to send their kids back full time may change (more, or less…) as things change, but right now that’s what the majority want.

    Our district did a tremendously good job of getting parent input on developing their plan, but when that plan was presented to the Board there was no full-time 5 day option included.

    We currently have a petition drive going to express parents interest in seeing that kind of plan, we’ll see where that goes. No idea whether that would be the best plan, but given most parents prefer it, we should at least see what a plan might look like.

    Thanks again!

  12. Jay Kard 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I will be opting for Distance Learning for my two children (5th and 7th grades). They are asking for it. They know what to expect - kids coughing on each other as a joke, kids not following expecations, teachers not helping because they are keeping their distance. At home, they have been flexible with their learning. They have grown and learned how to be more independent. As a parent, I … Read More

    I will be opting for Distance Learning for my two children (5th and 7th grades). They are asking for it. They know what to expect – kids coughing on each other as a joke, kids not following expecations, teachers not helping because they are keeping their distance.

    At home, they have been flexible with their learning. They have grown and learned how to be more independent. As a parent, I am more involved in their learning. This pandemic is painful, but in the long game it is just a moment in time. This pandemic has brought my family closer together.

    Schools are there to educate not to babysit. Education on-line and by distance learning works! But you have to put the time and energy into it. Parents need more training. Parents need more guidence. And parents need resources for babysitters. They need to go to work – have a babysitter come into the house. This is something we needed to do from birth to kindergarten. What is a few more years.

    Replies

    • Paula Hacker 1 week ago1 week ago

      YES!!! WELL SAID

    • tracey 1 week ago1 week ago

      I don't think parents think of school as a baby sitter. With that being said, our society and businesses are built around parents having children in school while they work. While it would be great to "hire" someone for each home, many middle income and low income parents simply can not afford it. Instead of passing single minded judgment, think about all the different kinds of households and have some empathy for parents and children … Read More

      I don’t think parents think of school as a baby sitter. With that being said, our society and businesses are built around parents having children in school while they work. While it would be great to “hire” someone for each home, many middle income and low income parents simply can not afford it.

      Instead of passing single minded judgment, think about all the different kinds of households and have some empathy for parents and children who want to survive the virus and the financial crisis it will create for them.