With Schools in Limbo, How Can Parents Plan for the School Year?

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On July 13th, officials in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco announced public schools will resume classes on August 17th online, rather than in-person.

Some parents, concerned about their child attending school during the pandemic, are relieved.

The hashtag #NotMyChild trended on Twitter last week in the U.S. Concerned parents across the country said they’d refuse to send their child to in-person school.

For others, this news comes as a blow. Though almost all U.S. schools shut down during the spring semester of the 2019-2020 academic year, many parents expected that they’d reopen and operate as usual this fall.

Or at least hoped that they would.

Now, with very few exceptions, we know that’s not going to happen – at least not in the Bay Area, LA, or San Diego. Throughout the summer, many school districts were unsure if state officials would allow schools to reopen in person, or if they’d be required to blend in-person class with remote learning, or if they’d be required to offer distance learning exclusively.

Now that schools have announced their initial plans, parents have something to go on. But school districts have also announced they plan to re-evaluate the situation at regular intervals. They may reopen schools at some point – but exactly when and how remains unclear.

This leaves many parents anxious. How do you plan for the upcoming year if you’re not sure whether your child or teenager will be in school or at home all day?

Reflect and Repair

Lisa Faguet, LCSW, Clinical Program Director of Evolve Agoura Hills, says reflecting on how distance-learning went this past spring is the best indicator of how things will be in the fall.

She encourages parents to ask themselves what worked and what didn’t.

“How your teenager handled these past few months – that’s the best definer of how it’ll be in the fall,” she says. “If your teen didn’t handle virtual learning well, it would be unwise to assume they will suddenly change this coming year. Now is the time to discuss and troubleshoot any problems or issues that occurred these past few months.”

Scheduling

For example, if your teenager had difficulty waking up in time for virtual classes, have a discussion with them about creating a daily schedule.

Check out our previous article on creating sample schedules for teens at home.

Faguet says that parents should ensure their teens wake up at approximately the same time every morning, eat breakfast, and get dressed.

“Pretend they’re still going to school,” she says. “In the schedule, designate times for lunch, dinner, downtime, and homework as well.”

For best results, teens should treat virtual school as seriously as they treat in-person school. “Or as if it were a job,” Faguet advises.

That’s why teens shouldn’t spend the entire day in pajamas or do all their virtual school from their beds. Working in a separate, designated school space will help your teen focus and concentrate. Even if there’s no other room or area for them to work in, and their bedroom is the only place they have some quiet, the bed should be off-limits—“just so it feels different,” Faguet says. “You don’t want school to blend into waking up, sleeping, and eating. Staying in bed all day will definitely cause or exacerbate mental health issues like depression.”

Finally, Faguet says parents need to ensure their child eats three healthy and nutritious meals every day. A good lunch is important. Even if you won’t be home, you can make a lunch the night before and put it in the fridge.

“If a teen is hungry, they’re not going to learn well. They can also get into bad eating habits, where they’re eating all day or not eating at all.”

Academic Concerns

Parents should also be proactive in communicating and staying involved with the school, Faguet recommends.

If there will be distance learning, what are the expectations? If the student doesn’t log on to Zoom that day, will parents be notified?

Again, the message here is that parents and teens should take virtual school as seriously as in-person school. During in-person school, you want to know if your teen misses class or falls behind. You want this same information during virtual school, too.

Here are questions parents should as teachers and/or school administrators:

  • How will I know if my teen is attending all virtual classes?
  • How will I know if my teen isn’t completing assignments?
  • What if my teen needs additional assistance?
  • What is the process for tutoring?
  • Will I be told if my teen has other issues with online learning?
  • What’s the best way to communicate with teachers and administrators if I have any questions?

Supervision

Last but definitely not least, parents are concerned about supervision. Of course, if one spouse can work from home, the supervision issue is partially resolved. But what happens if both parents need to be out of the house? What happens when both parents are essential workers?

And parents of adolescents who struggle with mental health, substance use, or behavioral issues have even more reason to be worried.

First, Faguet says that if a teen has a real mental health or addiction issue that has the potential to put their life in danger, they shouldn’t be home, period. Teens who engage in suicidal ideation or non-suicidal self-injury may belong in a residential treatment center, where they will receive 24/7 support, supervision, and mental health treatment.

Adolescents with a history of self-injurious behavior, suicidal ideation, or substance use are more prone to relapsing when unsupervised. This makes it dangerous for them to be alone for long periods of time.

If this is the case with your teen, try to arrange for one spouse (or another responsible adult) to be home with them. Even if an adult is not in the same room, being there to check up on them at regular intervals is important. The same goes for those who might struggle with mild to moderate depression, anxiety, or other mental health or emotional issues.

“Most teens may not like their parent hovering over them all day, but it still might be necessary to have an adult in the home while they’re there,” Faguet says. “It depends on each child in question. A 16-year-old might need to be supervised, while a mature 12-year-old might not.”

Spring Was A Trial Run: Use It as Guide

Of course, if your teen handled virtual school just fine this past spring, then hopefully they’ll be fine again when virtual school rolls around in August. If not, you may need to reach out for additional support.

Parents should also consider the nature of their teen’s relationship with the teacher or school. Will they be motivated to log into school and complete assignments if no parent is there to push them? Every school is different, and the way each school conducts distance-learning may vary. While some institutions will have teachers deliver lectures live, others will have students watch prerecorded classes. This might impact engagement, motivation, and academic achievement.

Again, Faguet advises looking back to how things went this past spring to get an accurate picture of how things will look this fall. If they handled it well, then this fall may go well, too. But if virtual school was a problem, now is the time to plan for success.

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