Back to School During COVID-19
July 9, 2020
BY: Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich
Back to School – With a Lot of Questions
Yes, it’s summer— and most children do not like thinking about going back to school when it is still summer! There’s still so much to enjoy of summer, and you may find my blog posts on enjoying (or enduring) this particular summer here and here.
Soon enough, though, the summer sun will fade into September, and our focus will turn to back-to-school shopping, new class schedules, and what your children think of their new teachers or seeing their friends again. Soon enough it will be time to go back to school!
Here in New Jersey— which is currently in its stage II of re-opening— the Governor does anticipate opening schools this fall, though, most probably, with some component of online or remote learning. The plan is outlined in the New Jersey Department of Education’s The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education, which may be accessed via the state’s website (as well as with a shorter Executive Summary).
The plan presents guidance related to four key subject areas: 1. Conditions for Learning; 2. Leadership and Planning; 3. Policy and Funding; and 4. Continuity of Learning. What does all this mean, as it relates to your marriage, your divorce, your children? Let’s dive in!
1. Conditions for Learning: This section addresses the minimum standards of safety precautions, including a policy for screening students and employees who have symptoms, attempts to practice social distancing, and requirements for mask-wearing when the student is above two years old.
As always, communication is key here. Take a moment to talk to your child this summer about what the new realities of the school year will be— maybe back-to-school shopping this year includes a cool mask? Talk to your co-parent: who is responsible for purchasing the masks, and washing the masks? Who is responsible for hand sanitizer in your child’s backpack?
Prior to the school year is also the time to talk to your co-parent about whether or not you both agree it’s safe for your child to even go back to school. Talk with your child’s doctor or medical provider— for each student, the answer may vary. While we don’t know the specifics yet, most school districts will rely on a mixture of remote and in-person education. But it’s important to consult with your co-parent: what are we comfortable with? What can we do to ensure our child’s safety?
2. Leadership and Planning: The goal here is for schools to share their scheduling plans with staff, families, and students at least four weeks before the start of the school year— which means we’ll all know a lot more soon about how back-to-school will work practically.
This, of course, brings up questions of parenting schedules, work schedules, and daycare. After discussing safety precautions, talk to your co-parent about what a return to work and school will realistically look like for everyone in the family (including the pets!) in the fall. A lot more flexibility may be required than normal, and that means talking to your employer about their own flexibility, and family members, fellow parents, or friends who may be able to help you. The more time the state gives us to lead and plan, the better we can all do— for ourselves, and for our children.
3. Policy and Funding: Like so many families, the wallets of school districts have been hit by the pandemic— with underfunding, mounting unforeseen costs, and less tax revenue. While this section of the roadmap may read more like inside baseball, it does have some real-world applications for your life.
Have you or your co-parent lost your job, or seen a reduction of income? Now is the time to budget for the fall, and to be honest about what a return to school will cost. Will there be more childcare costs? What can you cut back on in, say, September, so that a fun-filled and safe Halloween may be assured in October? Though everyone’s spending has been impacted in different ways by COVID-19 (more grocery bills, fewer restaurants; less vacations, or theme park trips, but more streaming costs), it’s important to discuss what money going out and coming in will look like as a new school year approaches.
4. Continuity of Learning: Whether it’s technology, curriculum, or students with special education and/or disabilities, everyone’s primary goal is that children get back to learning in a focused way. There’s a widespread understanding that remote learning simply isn’t as productive for most children, and that there will be gaps in children’s learning and progress when in-person education resumes. (There’s also, of course, widespread understanding that this schooling must be done safely, with health, and mental health, being paramount.)
So, what can you do with your children to ensure their continuity of learning— now and in the fall? Though children may not love it, talk with your co-parent about both of you encouraging learning now, be it through summer reading, online classes (The Walt Disney Co. has a great free series on STEAM— science, technology, engineering, arts, and math— that can be accessed here), Zoom tutors, and more. In the fall, you and your co-parent may need to be more present than ever in the day-to-day education of your child, whether that’s through more after-school, hands-on help, or simply checking in with their teachers to make sure they are paying attention to the remote component. In short, school will be back in session— for them, and for you.
Of course, we don’t know all the plans now, nor do we have all— or any — of the answers. As the summer progresses, we’ll learn more. We encourage you to communicate with civility with your co-parent and to return to our blog. We’ll talk more.
Contact The New Jersey Divorce Lawyers at Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, O’Cathain & O’Cathain, LLC
Although our goal is to resolve your case efficiently and amicably, our New Jersey divorce lawyers have years of experience trying divorce cases. We strive to make the trial process as simple as possible while zealously advocating for you and your positions.