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'It's A No-Win Situation': Parents Weigh Risk Of Keeping Kids Home Or Sending Them To School

Mom in driver's seat of car, with her son in the passenger side, looking out from stopped car to smile at reporter. The car's in front of the son's school.
Bill Zeeble
Vette Kennard is with her children in the car line at Joe May Elementary School in Dallas. She's one of hundreds waiting to pick up school-issued computers for online learning, forced by COVID-19.

Some parents can't wait for in-person school to start. But in a lot of districts, that won't happen for a while. For the first few weeks or more of class, learning will be online only. Like it or not, students will still be home.

Educators agree that outside of the rare exception, kids learn better when they're in-person at school, rather than online at home.

Alma Sevillano, with three children at home, can’t wait for in-person school to start again — but that won’t happen yet. Recently, she was one of many parents waiting in a long car line outside of Dallas ISD’s Joe May Elementary School to pick up school-issued computers.

“I don’t feel that I can teach him the same thing as a teacher would be able to teach him,” Sevillano said. “So for me, I think it would be a better choice to send him to school and let the teacher handle the situation.”

Sevillano knows no teacher will handle the situation in-person for a while. Dallas ISD will start class on Sept. 8 and for at least the first four weeks, school will be online-only. She fears distance learning will take a toll on more than her child’s education.

“We all have to work,” Sevillano said. “We have things to do so it makes it pretty complicated for us as parents.”

It's potentially risky too. In Fort Worth, Emily Youree would love to send her two little girls back to school, face-to-face, but she said “I feel like it’s a no-win situation.”

Youree works out of her house, publishing the online magazine Fort Worth Moms. One of her kids is in 4th grade, the other is in kindergarten.

“There are contrasting things that are true simultaneously. It is 100% true that my oldest daughter needs to be in in-person school for her own education and learning but [also], for her own social and mental health," she said. "Like, we’ve had some pretty significant mental health issues this summer. But it is equally important for her not to be in in-person school because there’s a pandemic with a real virus. My youngest that‘ll be starting kindergarten has chronic severe asthma."

Like other parents, Youree did the best she could when schools suddenly closed in March, teaching her daughter — hoping it was good enough.

"Me being her teacher,” Youree said, “that’s such a change and that’s like her worst nightmare. Like, ‘this is not the way Miss Quinn does it.’ You get into all that stuff too. It was definitely not my favorite season of life.”

For Dallas mother Vette Kennard, the new school year is like a new season. Only now, the single, working mom with four school-aged kids has a season of experience. For safety, she’ll keep her kids home, even if in-person school becomes an option.

"At home is fine,” Kennard said. “We already got used to it when things changed within the blink of an eye in March. So we say why not? Now we’re ready because we’re prepared, and I think we’ll do good staying at home.”

Kennard said she’ll work her shift in front of her computer, while her kids go to school in front of theirs.

Arlington ISD mom Amanda Thiel is also looking forward to online school running a bit more smoothly this time. When schools the world over first closed because of COVID-19, districts scrambled and students struggled as parents stressed.

"I worked really long hours,” Thiel recalled, “because I would have to take breaks from work to help the girls out with school if they had questions. So I worked a lot.”

Thiel’s Arlington district has worked a lot too over the past many months, improving online curriculum and teachers’ online techniques. Thiel figures teachers will need those new skills because students, like her daughters Cheyenne and Ashlyn, have catching up to do.

"They obviously missed out on a huge chunk of learning time,” Thiel said. “I mean, I’m sure they’re behind where they would be normally if they had completed the school year in-person per usual.”

Until in-person learning becomes usual again, Thiel won’t let her daughters return to class, even if they want that.

"…I don’t really feel comfortable sending my kids to be one of those Guinea pigs per se,” Thiel said.

That sort of discomfort among some parents is also why so many North Texas districts decided to start this school year from a distance.

Got a tip? Email Reporter Bill Zeeble at . You can follow Bill on Twitter @bzeeble.

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Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.