Putting your child on the bus for the first day of school is always a leap of faith for a parent. Now, on top of the normal worries about teachers and lessons and adjusting to new routines, there is COVID-19, and rising cases in the United States.
Rachel Adamus was feeling those emotions at sunrise Monday as she got seven-year-old Paul ready for his first day of second grade and five-year-old Neva ready for the start of kindergarten in the southern US state of Georgia.
With a new school year beginning this week in some states, Adamus is struggling to balance her fears with her belief that her children need to go to school for the sake of their education. The death toll in the US from the coronavirus has reached about 155,000, and cases are rising in numerous states.
As the bus pulled away from the curb in Adamus’s Dallas, Georgia, neighbourhood, the tears finally began to fall.
“I tried not to cry. I’m usually not like this on the first day of school,” said Adamus, who said her aunt died from COVID-19 in Alabama and her husband’s great-uncle succumbed to the virus in a New Jersey nursing home.
“This is the hardest it’s been.”
The Adamus children are among tens of thousands of students in Georgia and across the nation who were set to resume in-person school Monday for the first time since March.
Both youngsters were wearing masks, although that is not mandatory for the 30,000 students in Paulding County, about 40km (25 miles) northwest of Atlanta.
Nine districts were starting face-to-face classes in Georgia, all also offering parents a stay-at-home virtual option. That is in addition to three districts that started face-to-face classes last week. Five more Georgia districts were starting all-online classes on Monday.
Parents in Louisiana and Tennessee will also be among those navigating the new academic year as schools open up in parts of those states this week. Schools in Hawaii were supposed to reopen Tuesday, but the teachers’ union led a move to delay that until August 17.
Many schools are planning a hybrid approach, with students alternating between in-person classes and online instruction. Some schools will have full in-person instruction for lower grade levels only.
Uptick in cases
Many school districts around the country had offered parents a choice of at least some in-person classes or remote instruction. But an uptick in COVID-19 cases in many states has prompted districts to scrap in-person classes at least for the start of the school year, including in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington.
Adamus lives near North Paulding High School, where the principal sent a letter over the weekend announcing a football player tested positive for the coronavirus after attending practice. The Georgia High School Association, in a memo sent last week, said it has received reports of 655 positive tests since workouts for football and other sports started on June 8. Mandatory practices began statewide last week.
In Mississippi, where the virus is spreading fast, 44 districts begin classes in person this week, starting Monday with the rural 1,700-student Newton County system east of Jackson. The 2,700-student Corinth district was the first traditional district to begin class in Mississippi last week. By week’s end, one Corinth High School student had tested positive and a dozen or more classmates were in quarantine.
In Indiana, where schools reopened last week, a student at Greenfield Central Junior High School tested positive on the first day back to class.
Superintendent Harold Olin said the student was tested days earlier and attended class before receiving the results. The student was isolated in the school clinic, while school nurses worked to identify others who may have had close contact.
“This really does not change our plans,” Olin said. “We knew that we would have a positive case at some point in the fall. We simply did not think it would happen on day one.”
One student who will not be starting at North Paulding on Monday is Aliyah Williams. Her mother, Erica Williams, said she was keeping the 14-year-old freshman home because two of her younger sons have cystic fibrosis and she can’t risk their being exposed. Williams said she thinks her daughter will be OK academically with online classes. But she is worried about Aliyah’s inability to see her friends.
“She’s a social butterfly. That’s a big part of her personality,” Williams said.
Aliyah has been participating in color guard with the school band, but Williams said she is now “conflicted” about that too, considering the football player’s positive test.
Other parents have to balance their jobs with schooling decisions. Shannon Dunn has to report to her job this week as a cafeteria manager at an elementary school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but she has no idea what she will do when her daughter starts kindergarten with online-only instruction.
Dunn’s East Baton Rouge Parish district has asked employees to begin work this week, while students are set to begin virtual classes next week. School officials have said they hope to begin in-person classes after Labor Day on Monday, September 7.
“My family works. I have no one I can take her to and say, `OK, at 12 o’clock you are going to have to start working online with her for school,'” Dunn said.
Dunn said she hopes her daughter will be able to attend in-person classes at her school after Labor Day. But even if she does, that will not ease Dunn’s mind completely.
“I’m definitely going to worry,” she said. “I will send her to in-person classes, but if I hear of the spread of COVID at the school, then I’d have to rethink it all over again.”