As Burnet County schools prepare to open their doors to on-campus learning for the first time since mid-March, some parents are cautiously optimistic.
“I’m ready to get these kids back to school,” said Amber Bales, a mother of five kids who attend Marble Falls Independent School District schools. “Their mental health is suffering. They miss their friends and stability. This is their routine. My kids really need to be back at school. They really missed the social aspect of being around their friends.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are weighing many factors in their decision on whether to send their children back to school or keep them home to learn remotely. Issues include campus health and safety protocols, the child’s mental, emotional, and academic needs, and parents’ job situations. Each family’s circumstances are different.
Bales, an officer manager at a local quarry, and her husband, Ben, the chief operator of the city of Horseshoe Bay’s water plant, are considered essential workers. They go to work during the week regardless of the pandemic. Working remotely isn’t feasible.
This past spring and over the summer, oldest son, 14-year-old Jeremiah, watched his four siblings while they his parents worked. Jeremiah will be a freshman at Marble Falls High School when school starts Aug. 19.
The Baleses’ other children will attend Colt Elementary School: 10-year-old Jaxson as a fifth-grader; 8-year-old Jakob as a third-grader; 7-year-old Angel as a second-grader; and 6-year-old Chrissy as a first-grader.
When MFISD classes resume, Jeremiah will have a full course load, making it difficult for him to watch his siblings if the family opted for remote learning, which will be more rigorous this year, according to district officials.
Though Jeremiah was able to keep up with his studies during the spring on his own, the younger kids needed help. After getting home from work, Amber and Ben would prepare dinner, clean up, and then help the youngest with their assignments at night. It’s not something they want to repeat this fall, especially considering the schoolwork will be on par with what it was like before COVID-19 struck.
“I can’t be a good teacher and a good parent at the same time,” Amber said. “You’re trying to teach five different grades at the same time. I went from worker mode to mom mode to teacher mode. It’s difficult to make those balance.”
Like many parents, the couple now has a deeper respect for teachers.
The Baleses also believe in-person learning has other benefits for their kids.
“They miss the social aspect of school,” Amber said.
Burnet Middle School parents Rachael and Richard Hausman discussed all of the “what-ifs” of sending sons Alan, 13, and Aidan, 11, back to campus or keeping them home when classes resume Aug. 20 for Burnet Consolidated ISD.
“How are we going to handle it if some sort of an outbreak occurs at campus?” Richard said. “We don’t want to catch it and give it to someone else, but if we don’t send our kids to campus, they’re missing out on social growth.”
“I don’t think there’s going to be much risk or concern of bringing it or transferring it to our home,” Rachael said. “Studies are showing it’s slowing. I know schools will act in a way to protect our kids. We’re probably not going to pull our kids out. We’re really trusting (BCISD) and have faith that the protocol procedures are in place.”
Plus, Richard said he felt the boys would get much more out of in-person learning.
Another thing that troubles the couple is that their sons are spending more time indoors than outdoors.
“They need to get out and have school time and friends time,” Rachael said.
“We’ve had to reduce significantly the friends time and social activities,” Richard said. “This summer has been a nightmare. Parents of other kids are concerned as well. All of us had to be concerned. (My sons) are struggling at home. They want to go to their friends’ houses. We want to get them back into structure, back to routine, back to social growth.”
Melissa Corona, the mother of 16-year-old Marble Falls High School junior Kayla and 19-year-old Brian, who is in MFISD’s 18+ Transition program, said both of her children will return to campuses. The transition program is for special-needs students who have wrapped up high school but require additional help moving to post-secondary life.
Corona is an essential employee, whose workday begins at 6 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.
“I really don’t have much of a choice,” she said. “I don’t have much flexibility.”
Returning to in-person learning is important for Brian, who is autistic.
“Brian needs his routine,” she added. “He does need his routine and practice his social skills as much as he can. Brian needs supervision.”
One of Corona’s biggest concerns about sending her kids back to campus is the face covering requirement due Brian’s autism and Kayla’s anxiety.
Under MFISD in-person learning guidelines, all students must wear face coverings while in buildings or on buses. The guidelines do call for an hourly “mask break.”
“(Kayla) sometimes has fainting spells,” Corona said. “I get the whole virus thing, but wearing a mask all day stresses me out. They don’t like different. Wearing a mask is different. We don’t have any solutions as of right now. I told her she needs to call me if I have to go get her. Kayla wants to go back. She’s been stuck at home.”
Under the MFISD in-person safety guidelines, parents can notify their campus administration if their child has individual needs “that might limit the use of face coverings.” Those will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
All of the parents acknowledged the risks of sending their children back to school but believe it is the right decision for their families.
“Do I worry about that?” Amber Bales said. “Honestly, without polarizing things, I understand teachers’ concerns about going back to school and kids going back in, but my kids are relatively healthy. At this point, it’s time. Cross your fingers and hope for the best.”
“We’re willing to do whatever — we’ll follow the rules — to get back to normalcy,” Rachael Hausman said. “We’ll do what we need to do to get back to normalcy.”