Many area parents are struggling to make the best decision for their kids as they choose virtual or in-person learning for the upcoming school year.
“We’re all conflicted,” said Danielle Carvalho of Lantana. “I have not talked to one parent who is completely confident in their decision.”
Local school districts are offering two main options for starting the 2020-21 school year: all virtual, or all in-person learning. Once a decision is made for a student, it can only be changed at the next nine-week grading period.
Carvalho’s sons, Preston and Owen, attend Founders Classical Academy in Flower Mound. Preston is entering the seventh grade, and Owen is entering fourth. Both want to return to school. Carvalho said with just a day left before the deadline to make her decision for both sons, she’s still “on the fence.” She’s leaning toward letting the older boy go to school, but keep the younger one home, at least for the first quarter.
“Preston wants to see his friends, and I don’t want him to miss out on that, and I know he’ll be responsible with masks,” Carvalho said. “Owen will be 9, at that age where they’re not 100% consistent with masks, so with him I thought I should keep him home at first.”
All Founders students are starting the first three weeks online, and then those students who selected in-person learning will return to schools on Sept. 8 (that’s the plan as of July 31). The decision is difficult because while staying home would be safer, Carvalho believes her kids would have a better learning and social experience going to school every day, rather than learning online. It’d also be easier for her and her husband, who have been busy working from home since the pandemic changed daily life in North Texas this spring. And different schools making different decisions is also affecting her mindset.
“When I see schools like Liberty (Christian School) starting as planned, on time, with just masks, I think, ‘OK, if they’re doing it, am I overthinking this?” Carvalho said. “At this point, I think I will send Preston for in-person and see how the first quarter goes, and keep Owen home for the first quarter.”
Other parents are coming to different decisions. Lilkar Molina has two daughters in Flower Mound schools: Samanta Lopez, who is entering 11th grade at Flower Mound High School, and Sofia, who is entering sixth grade. The two girls and their parents all have agreed that they won’t feel totally safe returning to in-person learning.
“Until we know more, we don’t feel comfortable sending them back to school,” Lilkar said.
But they’re also not satisfied with the virtual learning options being offered at the Lewisville ISD schools. Lilkar withdrew Sofia from her school and enrolled her in another school district because of the virtual learning program, and the family is asking the district to expand the virtual options for students. LISD recently expanded more of the virtual classes being offered, but Samanta and other students like her are still not able to sign up for the classes they need, Lilkar said.
“Please, let’s not force students to attend in-person when they’re not comfortable returning to school. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we don’t have the numbers under control,” said Lilkar.
Lilkar said she, her family and other students who signed up for virtual learning would much prefer for things to return to normal and for the students to return to school. But until normal is possible, they want equal opportunities for students to get the classes they need, whether they’re in school or at home.
Other parents are confident in their decisions to send their kids back to school. Billie Riley’s son, Hank, will return to Liberty Christian School to start fifth grade on Aug. 13.
“We’re very comfortable with it,” Billie said. “I think the kids really miss having a one-on-one connection and I worry about the social aspect of being isolated. Getting back to school with friends, even with masks and things being done differently… the benefits far outweigh the risks. Liberty is doing a fantastic job to minimize the risk.”
Billie said Hank did a great job when Liberty transitioned to remote learning this spring, and he’d be able learn virtually this year if he had to, “but you can’t substitute the emotional connection that kids have with each other and their teachers.”
Billie, who sits on Liberty’s school board, said she understands that other families aren’t as comfortable returning to schools, and she knows that everyone is trying to make difficult decisions that will be best for their kids.
“I hope people support other people’s choices, even if they’re not the same as your own,” Billie said. “People need to decide what’s best for their families.”