But my family, as a social and economic unit, cannot function indefinitely within the framework that the authorities envisage for the autumn. There are so many ways in which the situation we have been plunged, in which businesses plan to reopen without any conversation about the impact on families with school-aged children, is even more untenable for others.
In the best of cases, the impact on children will always be significant. Students will lose most of a year of learning because parents – their new untrained teachers – cannot significantly supervise when they are focused on the desk. At best, children will be crabby and crazy because they are not doing enough physical activity because they are now tied to their parents’ work spaces all day, running around the living room instead of fresh air. Without social interaction with other children, they constantly seek parental attention in bad manners, which tends to increase mood at home even more. And these are ideal scenarios.
But what about children who cannot learn at a distance? What about children who need school-related services? Or those who are at higher risk of complications if they contract the virus and may not be able to return even every third week?
When learning plans for children with special needs could not be followed up properly this year, the educational gains of many students were quickly wiped out. Distance learning has already widened the gap in racial and socioeconomic success due to disparities in access to technological tutors. As parents are overwhelmed by the Covid economy, so are the children who need support the most. No wonder the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement this weekend urging students to be physically present at school as much as possible this fall.
The long-term losses for professional adults will also be incalculable and will disproportionately affect mothers. Working mothers across the country feel that they are being pushed out of the workforce or into part-time jobs because their responsibilities at home have increased tenfold.
Even those who have found a short-term solution because they have had the luxury of pressing the pause button for their projects and careers this spring to manage the effects of the pandemic – based on the assumption that the Fall would bring back to school and child care – may now have no choice but to leave the workforce. A friend just applied for a job and tells me that she can’t even imagine how she could take it if her kids didn’t really go back to school. There is an idea that people can quit their careers and pick them up where they left off, although we do know that women who leave the workforce to take care of children often find it difficult to return.
And lest you think it’s everyone against the teachers, I can’t imagine a group to whom this situation is less fair. Are teachers supposed to teach full-time in class but manage distance learning simultaneously? Even in a non-pandemic period, teachers would tell you that they already work unpaid overtime nights and weekends, just to plan and assess. Where exactly will the overtime come from? For teachers with their own school-age children, the situation is not only untenable, it is impossible.