Over the past weeks, I’ve been asking South Berkshire County parents of children aged 5 to 16 their thoughts about returning to school in the fall. The following is a sampling of opinions.
Mother with three young children in Berkshire Hills Regional School District:
I haven’t decided if I am going to send them. Safety is a big thing. They are not high risk, but my son has had run-ins at school dealing with his behavior. He has ended up physically restrained. He’s also a black boy. His behavior was definitely not appropriate for school, but he wasn’t wielding weapons. I worry, given the chaos and new protocols, what happens if he has an issue at school with his impulsivity.
He’s really blossomed since closure. He started a new medication, and we have a supportive home. I worry he will regress by sending him back into the building with infinitely more rules and people don’t necessarily know what they are. It will feel like putting him into a cage. But my son hated virtual kindergarten.
Mother of three BRHSD elementary and middle school students:
I feel very fortunate and grateful to live in a state where we can trust our elected officials to be thoughtful and smart about this. It’s not like we are in Georgia or Florida. I can trust our school administrators are working as hard as they can to keep us all safe and come up with the most thoughtful reopening protocols possible. We plan to go with whatever plan they come up with. I do have the privilege of working from home.
In the spring I felt supported, but everything was so slapped together. I had three kids on three different systems. It will be helpful to have them doing the same thing, and I’m hopeful things will be better academically.
Father of Monument Mountain Regional High School students:
My number one interest is: What is the shape of the education my kids are going to be getting? Are they going to challenge my kids, and allow them to have the richness they had before? The value of distance learning, as it was executed in the spring, had minimal to no value. I have seen nothing to indicate that they [teachers] will swallow a magic pill and they’ll be able to do remote learning effectively.
I’ve been extraordinarily dismayed and shocked from the beginning of this process at the lack of parental input. I get that administrations and teachers have different perspectives. But when you plan without parents, it goes off the rails. They have taken substantive steps more recently and involved parents on the reopening task force.
I’m blown away by the position of the teachers’ union. I have been following closely the level of coronavirus in this community. In the last month, there had been one COVID case in Great Barrington. No hospitalizations at Fairview. The risk for kids and risk for teachers is not high, so I’m perplexed by this push to keep kids out of school. It’s an indictment of our public schools if parents remove their kids because schools are not responsive.
Mother whose daughter just completed freshman year at MMRHS:
They [public schools] are all doing the best they can. My daughter is very social, so she misses the social aspect. She is an only child. She did very well last year. Her mentor last year was awesome. I could see that when she’d get on her weekly calls. When she’d get off the call, she’d say, “Only half the kids were there.”
We chose Monument over two private schools because she wanted it. I don’t want to pull her, but I want her to be challenged, and it’s going to be challenging to challenge every kid.
Mother with kids at Undermountain Elementary School in Southern Berkshire Regional School District who researched Berkshire Country Day School:
What I’ve been hearing is because their [BCD’s] numbers [of students] are lower, their No. 1 plan is full-time, in-person learning instead of hybrid. But I can’t get myself to do private school yet. They’re this huge inequity, and I feel committed to coming up with solutions that reduce the inequity. My kids aren’t at the age where this [remote learning] will be detrimental. We have the resources to supplement what they’re doing.
The truth is, I don’t know what we’re going to do. Our greatest concern is childcare over education, which is horrible. But with two working parents, we have to prioritize childcare.
Last night my kids played with some other kids who hadn’t been allowed out to play. It was incredible to watch. The kids go from this depressed state to animated, just getting time to play together.
Mother of two BHRSD students:
[On a call for parents] People asked if the first week of school could be about taking time for the kids to play and interact with their friends. [The administration] said, “No. They are already missing 10 days of school and we have to jump right in.” So state standards dictate. They have not made decisions on state testing, but what I hope is that they will have tests at the high school level — because they’re needed for graduation — but eliminate them from middle and elementary schools. I am saying that to anyone who will listen, but no one is listening. Having no tests this year could relieve some pressure off teachers.
Mother of two who suffers from diabetes:
I’m in a unique situation because of my disease. We want the kids back to school because it is the best thing for them. We have few people with COVID here and more options to be outside. Being outside is the key at minimizing the risk. But I am also nervous because of the news and what’s happening in the country. My emotions are a rollercoaster.
If I get this, I am going to be in big trouble. I will be on a ventilator. I’m the one that holds the family together. I think about that every day.
Mother of three BHRSD students looking into the idea of a homeschooling pod:
Online did not work for the girls. My kids can’t structure their days, and I am not a teacher. Some people find it an interesting challenge to take on. Maybe [our high school-aged son] should just get his GED. Do we want to pay for private school, even with a huge discount? Do you pay for private education when they’re just online? If they can’t even do electives, because electives are a mixed batch of classes out in the world with other people?
Everything feels wrong. We won’t even know until the day before school, likely, where we feel comfortable. Things could change.
Mother of a BRHSD student:
I feel a ton of empathy for administration. They are being asked to respond to an impossible situation with no more resources than before.
Both my husband and I can work from home, and our child can access remote learning. He’s a junior in high school. We have an introverted kid who likes school but doesn’t crave the social part of it. He’s independent. He was formerly homeschooled, so we are uniquely positioned to handle this. My daughter just graduated and she was able to thrive by not being physically at school. She kept saying, before COVID, “Why can’t I just do the work? Why do I have to be in the classroom?” She did phenomenally well remotely, better than she’d done in years. I know the CDC says that kids are better off in school, but not all kids are.
Mother of 5-year-old and 3-year-old setting up a family-based homeschool pod:
What we are trying to do is not elite. One person we are podding with can’t pay, so we are planning to front it. It shouldn’t be our responsibility, but it is, because no one else is doing it. Parents should not have to work full-time and teach full-time. It’s going to cause nervous breakdowns.
I email [the schools] and ask, and they say they don’t know what will happen. This is happening because there is too much unknown. There are too many ideas I hear about that I don’t like. I am not sending my kid to kindergarten to sit 6 feet away from people or wear a mask. I don’t hear anything that sounds safe and mentally healthy for my child.
Let’s say I send my kid to school. What happens in November when numbers spike and schools shut down, and everyone is scrambling? Now people are planning because there is no plan to get us through another peak of the virus.
If there were outdoor school, I would sign her up.
Mother and father of sixth-grader in BHRSD:
Mom: The kids, they don’t know how to keep distance! We were just on Facebook looking at a post of families hanging out at lakes and rivers with other kids! Now in Massachusetts, the cases are going up again. They bring everything from school into the house. Imagine when all these kids are coming back to school? My son has been quarantining. He hasn’t hung out with any friends, poor thing. I don’t know who are the other children who will be joining him. I don’t know if their parents have been careful.
My husband is high-risk because he just finished cancer treatment, and he’s developed diabetes. It’s not only old people who have the risk.
Dad: I would prefer for our son to stay home and lose one year of school than stay in school and bring the virus home. Zoom didn’t work out great this spring. It was all fresh and new for everybody — difficult for teachers, students and parents. A lot of the things they were teaching I couldn’t help when he didn’t understand. I don’t know why they do multiplication the way they do. They were sending homework and videos, but it’s like they’re not teaching. When a parent don’t understand it, then it’s really frustrating.
Mother of three in BHRSD elementary and middle schools:
For me it’s not just about their education, it’s about their well-being. My kids have not been super-well these past few months without school.
I am not super freaked out about their exposure. Summer camp outdoors felt fine. In my fantasy there would be project-based or alternative education, but I don’t actually care about their education. People are concerned with teachers using online curriculum. I don’t care about the curriculum. It’s not that effective to begin with. If they miss a year of multiplication tables, I feel sure they will catch up.
I am exceptionally privileged, with the ability to pay for care, and I am still working. But the truth is, if the kids are not in school, they will be playing video games, and that is not OK with me. It’s heartbreaking for me that this is an uphill battle.
Mother of two BHRSD boys who’s considering homeschooling:
In a perfect world, this would be an opportunity for kids to find some self-motivation, because the structure that’s motivated them is not there. This summer we did a four-day outdoor adventure and if there were a semester of that, I’d send him to it. It’s such a rich experience, being outside, challenging yourself and finding your limits.
This is not the time to be fussing over MCAS standards and whether your kid meets them. So far, I have Flying Deer Nature Center lined up one day a week, virtual piano lessons, foreign language, and hope to set up a virtual book club and humanities group with other kids.
They just need connections, need to see their teachers. This is a very destabilizing time for children. How we do model resilience? How do we see the opportunity here? There are times I think it’s really hard to see, but we’ve had these experiences. You have to get out of the mainstream to see them.
BHRSD teacher/mother of two BHRSD students:
God knows what I’m going to do with my kids. There’s no plan for what to do for staff kids during the professional development weeks. What do I do? Send them to my mother, who has serious health issues?
I don’t like the hybrid model for lots of reasons. It will increase the contact points for kids dramatically, for one thing. Right now, with the fortunate low-number situation we have in the county, I’d be comfortable sending back my kids full-time in an outdoor capacity. They’re talking about renting tents and plopping them in the parking lot for “outdoor learning.” No. All you need outside is some non-traditional seating, a few tables. Kids can be escorted to the bathroom. There’s no barrier we can’t get over. Not everyone would be on board, but plenty would. There is no 21st-century skill that cannot be accomplished via outside learning. Collaboration, perseverance, risk-taking: All those skills can be developed via outdoor education. Their social/emotional well-being is my top priority.
Any South County parent who’d like to add their input to this ongoing conversation can email me at email@example.com.