Inside Hortencia Cabral's south Bakersfield home sits two baggies full of face masks of all colors and styles. Her twin 10-year-old boys know the drill: before going anywhere, they have to pick and wear one.
"They're on it," she said, adding they're aware of the dangers the coronavirus poses.
However, when it comes to school in the fall, she hopes they can return and be around peers and teachers. Distance learning has proved to not be as effective as learning from their teacher, Cabral said.
"I would not mind having my kids attend school full-time with proper precautions — wearing a mask, washing hands periodically," Cabral said.
A school reopening task force, made up of educational partners from districts small and large throughout the county, has been meeting for several weeks to discuss possible back-to-school scenarios for the county's more-than 190,000 students. No local plans have been announced, but the options being proposed suggest distance learning is here to stay in some regard.
According to a guide put out by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, possible options include:
- Alternating students groups with on-site classes Monday through Thursday and distance learning Friday through the following week.
- Students attending school two days a week and the rest of the week learning will take place online.
- Have younger grades attend school daily while sixth- through eighth-grade students have a hybrid schedule.
For working parents, this raises the question of child care if students will be home part of the week. Parents who must work outside the home will have to arrange for someone to be with their children while those who can be at home will be faced with continuing to juggle the role of teacher and full-time child care provider and working professional indefinitely.
OUT OF OPTIONS
Michelle Chaidez, a working mother with a 7-year-old daughter, didn't expect distance learning to be as difficult as it's been.
"It got to the point where, honestly, mentally I started to feel like a bad parent," she said.
As a Walmart manager, she didn't have the opportunity to work from home, which she said caused several problems for her daughter's education. A grandparent would step in while Chaidez was away, but they had difficulty navigating technology. Scheduling Zoom meetings with her child's teacher also was hard because Chaidez got off work after school hours.
To prepare for whatever scenario comes in the fall, she's decided to step down from her managerial role.
"I’m here dedicating all my time to work, and I feel like my child is regressing at her work," she said. "She needs me right now ... it’s either my child’s education or me trying to provide and stick it out.”
Even for parents who've worked from home during the pandemic, the thought of going back to work and juggling hybrid models is cause for stress.
Darlene Soriano saw some of the difficulties motivating her third-grade son to complete work this past semester while she was home. Returning to work and having to rely on an older family member to help with her son's education doesn't seem like the best option, but it's all she has.
"For my aunt who is almost in her 70s, I don't want to have to bombard her with taking care of him and trying to keep up with his work. The work would have to wait until my husband and I get home," Soriano said.
Leaving her 9-year-old home alone or looking for another babysitter isn't practical either.
Even parents of older children are scratching their heads. Though Cheryl Segoviano can work remotely, she said it's going to be difficult helping her incoming Foothill High School freshman.
“I cannot be in two rooms at once,” she said, adding her son would often get distracted and veer off task this past spring. Trying to help teach a high schooler classwork is another concern for her since things have “definitely changed since my time.”
‘GO BACK TO NORMAL’
When it comes to what parents would like to see happen this fall, most want their children in school as much as possible. According to a parent survey conducted by the Bakersfield City School District, of 1,369 responses available June 10, nearly 51 percent of respondents said they’d prefer having their child at school adhering to safety guidelines. About 35 percent of parents said they wanted a combination of in-person and distance learning.
"I would like to see things go back to normal," said Soriano, although modifications will make that challenging. "To go back and have all these guidelines and regulations — staying apart, desks separated — I don’t know how it’s going to affect them."
Chaidez would also like to see her daughter at school more, but thinks there's no way younger children can keep their masks on or stay apart. The best approach for her would be sending her daughter to school for two days and work remotely the other three.
As districts plan for the fall, Cabral wants leaders to take proactive approaches on how they can address child care for working parents. More ideas could lead to several feasible options, she believes.
"Start thinking outside the box and focusing on finding solutions rather than sitting back, watching it all unfold and reacting later," she said. "I supported the decision of schools to shut down ... I can only ask for responsible, thorough thinking and decision-making in terms of how kids go back."
Robert Meszaros, the KCSOS director of communications, wrote in an email that districts are working through and researching child care options. Challenges include having enough indoor space available while still maintaining social distancing, and whether certain funds can apply to day care enrichment programs.
"There is absolutely an acknowledgement that many, many families depend on their schools as a place to not only educate children, but to keep them safe during the day when parents are at work. This is especially the case for younger students who cannot otherwise stay home alone and/or do distance learning without support from an adult," Meszaros wrote. "School officials are committed to ensuring that everything is explored and will make accommodations for families to the extent practical."