Right now, I find myself at the proverbial crossroads with one of the most important responsibilities I have as a parent. Education. Next to home and church, school is the most influential experience my children will probably ever have. I have always been of the mind that every child is unique, and each season will affect our choice of how to school them. 

OUR STORY

We moved to Elgin four years ago at the urging of my husband. He had heard good things about the Elgin School District. The area was grow- ing, spurred on by military residents from Fort Sill. The school was large and well-funded by taxation from all the new residential construction. Honestly, seeing Osborne Park and eating at Las Margaritas Mexican Restaurant was a pivotal point for me. I try to be open to new things. So, I started my children in the Elgin school system that fall.

The first school year went fairly well. I was the typical helicopter parent worried about the effect a new school would have on my children. I attended all the school parties and activities they offered. I dropped my anxious children off dutifully and waited by their classroom door to pick them up at the bell. I was careful to assure them they could do it, more so assuring myself that I could. It was hard, but we got through it. It was the second year at Elgin that things got a little hairy.

Being a former teacher, I try to naturally integrate learning into everything we do. Into our daily lives. Into cooking. Into pet care. Into hygiene. How? We talk about everything. I am a firm believer that having regular conversations with children by using adult words and concepts is the best form of teaching.

It models vocabulary, critical thinking, and synthesis of new ideas. Not to mention developing moral concepts. But sending them to school meant less time around me and my husband. Would the teacher continue to model the same way we had? I could only hope. I continued to teach naturally outside of school hours. For me, it was nothing short of an experiment. I told my husband I was willing to keep them in Elgin so long as it worked for our family.

Then it happened. While driving in the car one day, my pre-kindergartner asks me about families with two mommies. I hesitate because my older kids had asked seemingly random questions which I had overanalyzed and regretted it later. So, I ask her where she heard about families with two mommies. I thought maybe her friend has a mom and a stepmom. That would be two mommies, right?

No. She tells me it was in a book that was read to her in the school library. After talking to the librarian and reviewing several books about families that she had read to the students that week, I decided to take them to my husband to look at.

One book stopped me in my tracks. It featured “different” families. Although it never talked about families with two mommies, one page had a picture of two women together and another pictured two men. I was unnerved. Yes, I know gay marriage is legal. Yet, as a mom I feel it is my job to teach my children about homosexuality when I feel they are mature enough to handle it. Not in Pre-K.

No. Just No.

The librarian assured me school staff were not outright teaching about homosexuality or same-sex marriage. I just wasn’t comfortable with having the book in the library and filed a request to have it removed with the principal. Within a couple weeks, the principal told me my request was denied. He also pointed out that the school was very large and diverse. He said the elementary school alone had at least two families with same-sex parents and that the school had to be sensitive to that.

HOME SCHOOL DECISION

When I read the request form, it had written comments on the bottom. The comments said something to the effect that I had an agenda. Although I was offended at first, I thought about it. They were right; I did have an agenda. My agenda was the welfare of my children. So, we removed our children from Elgin schools and homeschooled them the remainder of the year. I didn’t believe my children would be sufficiently educated with such a large school.

Another factor in my decision to take them out was the size of my son’s second grade class. There were 33 students and it was the teacher’s first year. Needless to say, it was a loud class. My son got to the point of crying and not wanting to go to school. The school’s ability to grow had not caught up with the city’s new influx of residents. Large class sizes attested to this.

Elgin’s large size has caused buses to be overcrowded. Parents took to social media last year to make the community aware of the problem. This issue was covered by former Chronicle reporter Lisa Carroll.

Although federal regulations do not specify how many people can sit in a bus seat, one social media picture shows all the seats full and children standing in the aisle. Other students have complained of having to sit on laps, standing up while the bus is moving and sitting on the floor due to overcrowding.

Superintendent Nate Meraz attributed the problem to a bus driver shortage and raised driver pay to attract more applicants. Again, large school problems.

I knew I had to find a smaller school or go back to teach- ing them myself. The next school year, I applied and was approved for a transfer to Fletcher Public Schools. The school was much smaller and my children’s class sizes were between 15-22. They blossomed in a small community and became so much more independent. The teachers were not overwhelmed and took the time to talk to me every time I picked up my children. I was shocked. And hooked.

COVID-19

Their schooling went well, and I had the time to pursue online classes during the day. When I finished my master’s degree, I got the urge to teach them at home again. They liked Fletcher, but what kid wouldn’t resist the opportunity to sleep in a little later each day? They agreed and I took them out in January 2020. My husband and I agreed I would homeschool them the rest of the school year. Then, COVID-19 hit. I had no idea schools would close. But it was convenient to already have them home when things got bad in March 2020.

Am I fickle? Perhaps. But I like having the option to teach my kids when it’s convenient for us.

So, fast forward four months into the pandemic. My family has had little fellowship with other people. My children are starved for human interaction and have asked to go to Fletcher this year. This miss their friends, they say. Am I hurt? Eh. Maybe. But, going to school would allow them to have some relationships again.

Some people ask if this situation is affecting children’s mental health. I declare a resounding YES! I have cradled two of my three children in my arms this summer, hear them bawl. Uncontrollably. They don’t understand this whole virus thing. My middle child keeps saying he thinks he has it or thinks he is going to get it. My seven-year-old daughter cries because she can’t have friends over or see her classmates.

Children are meant to be social. We all are. This is certainly affecting our children negatively. They feel alone and cannot see an end to this situation.

WHAT WILL PARENTS DECIDE?

So, will parents in Elgin and Fletcher send their children back with so many unknowns about the virus? It is a hard choice and to each his own, I say. Everyone must choose what is best for their family. However, schools have a responsibility to the children who do come for in-person instruction, whether large or small.

In my opinion, it is small schools which will do best in this fight. Large schools will likely struggle to implement and enforce safety measures that satisfy parents’ need for security. 

RE-OPENING PLANS

For example, right now, Elgin Public Schools are not requiring temperature checks of teachers or students at the start of the day. The school re-opening plan states that touchless forehead thermometers will be made available for teachers to take temperatures “any time that it is deemed necessary.”

I can only assume this decision was made because of the massive number of students. This would make me a little nervous as a parent. However, Elgin’s bus protocols for wearing masks and social distancing is to be applauded.

Kindergarten and Pre-K parents will not be allowed to walk their children to class. They must be dropped off at the front door just like the other students. For a first experience in school, this can be intimidating for a four- year old. However, it will cut down on crowded hallways.

Fletcher, however, will do temperature checks on students twice a day. Teachers will use touchless thermometers on students upon entering the classroom and before lunch each day. Teachers and staff are responsible for monitoring their own temperature and bus riders must wear masks. Pre-K and kindergarteners will be allowed one adult with a mask to walk them to class until August 27. This will help with hallway overcrowding.

WHO KNOWS?

What this school year will look like is yet to be seen. I believe schools are trying their best, as are parents. But, in the end, I believe smaller schools tied to smaller communities will fare best.

Is homeschooling an option for my family this year? Yes. But I am still deliberating and educating myself on the benefits and risks of sending them back to school. I know you will, too.

It is time for parents to step up and not be passive about their child’s education. Make yourself aware of current data and the most recent findings. What is the likelihood of transmission in children? How are other countries who started back to school doing? What safety measures did they use? All good questions to ask.

Whatever you decide, know you are the best person to make that decision for your family.

Be well.