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Coronavirus diaries: Ex-teacher Dallas mom deals with school closures

Coronavirus diaries: Ex-teacher Dallas mom deals with school closures

Beth Yeshurun Day School/Classroom
This is what classrooms across Dallas look like these days: empty. Photo courtesy Beth Yeshurun Day School/Facebook

Editor's note: Today we kick off a series about how people in Dallas-Fort Worth are adjusting to the new realities of living amid the coronavirus pandemic. Whitney Threadgill Mahan is a nonprofit education administrator and working mom of three kids.

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For parents, students, and educators in Dallas, Spring Break this year has been anything but.

Grocery runs and social distancing have taken the place of vacations and quality family time. Family-friendly public facilities have closed down and travel is not safe. Children are experiencing unprecedented circumstances, and parents and teachers struggle to reassure them in confusing and disappointing times.

Behind the scenes, lawmakers, administrators, and stakeholders face seemingly insurmountable problems as news and recommendations roll in, seemingly by the hour.

The challenges are overwhelming. These decisions could mean life or death. Recognizing that public health is of paramount importance, a number of DFW school districts have closed to try and curb the spread of coronavirus, joining 35 states across the country.

  • Dallas ISD has closed all 230 schools.
  • Richardson ISD has closed its 55 campuses and will launch at-home lessons on Wednesday.
  • Highland Park is closed until April 5, when it will reassess.
  • Fort Worth's school district is closed until at least March 27.

As a working parent of three Dallas ISD students in two schools and a former middle school teacher in Dallas and Garland ISDs, I see many sides of what is a multifaceted issue.

Teachers
I read the posts of teachers commiserating daily on social media about everything from "distance learning" strategies to what will become of their paychecks, which are in most cases tied to the STAAR scores they now won't receive. Following Governor Greg Abbott's waiver of STAAR testing for this school year, no one knows what will become of the federal funding linked to the testing. If the students are not in school, there is no way to reliably ensure mastery of the year's instructional content.

Parents
Parents struggle with the idea of last-minute closures affecting their jobs, their childcare plans, and their kids' meals. In Dallas ISD alone, more than 155,000 students normally eat no-cost breakfast and lunch every day at school. Though the districts are strategizing for plans similar to those already offered in many places in the summer, distributing daily food this quickly to that many children without a reliable end in sight is a tall order.

Closed schools will most certainly affect families disproportionately, the burden falling heavily on those with fewer resources. Some parents are not willing or able to institute schoolwork at home, not having the time, experience, or technology. And with the fear of spreading COVID-19, the option some had of having grandparents care for the children has become too big a risk.

It is possible for learning to continue, but it is not possible to get back what we will have lost if we do not stem the tide of this pandemic. I am grateful I won't be sending my children off to take their chances with COVID-19, and that the powers that be put public health ahead of all else and made that decision for us.

Distance learning
What the new "distance learning" phase of our lives will look like remains to be seen. I have a full-time job; for now, my employer has been gracious enough to allow me to work from home. My background as a teacher might come in handy, but I never taught three grade levels simultaneously while trying to telecommute for the first time.

Thankfully, we can trust our teachers. They go over and above every day, and they won't stop now. Ahead of the cancellation, resources for learning from home were posted on our school's social media. Educators will be training to teach remotely. I’ve yet to delve through the packets the elementary sent, and I anticipate a learning curve with the Chromebook issued to my middle schooler.

But as I explained to my children about the closures, I think about how we will get creative: virtual field trips, educational videos, household items. We’ll need more structure in our days and a lot of patience. I told them there are some bridges we’ll have to cross when we get there.

But I had my biggest triumph so far: convincing my son that there's not any homework when you're already at home. Which above all, I know is for the best.