TCAPS Families React to Back to School Plan

“Just make a decision already!”

With 10,000 TCAPS students comes a wide variety of opinions on the school board’s decision. Emotions are high and so are stress levels.

With exactly one month to go until school starts, some parents are happy. Others are angry, frustrated or concerned.

Parent Justin Van Rheenen is anxious.

“So the decision’s now been made, now how does that flush out?” Van Rheenen asks.

TCAPS students will be starting the year online and at home for two weeks before moving to in-person learning on week three. But if cases start going up again, the school board says it could switch to an all online format or a hybrid.

9&10 News spoke with Superintendent Dr. John VanWagoner, who says two weeks of online learning will allow teachers and staff time to prepare safety and cleaning protocols before students are back in the buildings. And, he says, the two weeks at home will allow the district to see what problems other districts across the state are having so they know whether to make further adjustments

But those two weeks, with a possibility of extending online learning longer, are not good news for parent Margaret Szajner.

“I’m not happy about virtual. I want my kids to go back to in person. They’re going to learn the best that way. If they get sick, I’m totally willing to let them stay home.” She adds, “I actually think that starting in person makes the most sense since this time of year is the time kids aren’t sick as often (compared with flu season).”

Van Rheenen has lots of questions about his daughter’s start to the year.

“Is she going to meet her teacher before school starts? Do we got to find childcare? Do we not have to find childcare? How is this working?”

Tcaps Board Of Education Reveals Back To School PlansIt’s different for each family—and even for each student within that family. Jim Burke says virtual learning produces mixed results for his three kids.

“We kind of did a little bit of that virtual stuff at the end of the school year. My youngest excelled at it, she did a great job. My next two, it was a struggle.“

Van Rheenen is eager for his daughter to get back in class.

“I know for my kid, mentally, she needs to have interaction with her teacher, interaction with her peers. It’s that Dad in me that’s kind of, all of the unknown, and I don’t know what’s going to happen this fall,” he says.

We talked with several parents. Their concerns include everything from wanting to know if their children will get to see their new classroom (or new school) before school starts, to wondering how and when they’ll get laptops, iPads or Chromebooks.

Szajner says, “I’m basically going to be working from home for the foreseeable future and I have a little workstation set up in my basement. But I don’t know where am I going to set up the kids with their virtual skills. We don’t have desks. Two of them don’t even have computers yet.” Great Start Collaborative Reacts To Tcaps Cut

Other parents like Jim Burke say that virtual will be a challenge, but it’s a positive step–even if it doesn’t go far enough.

“I’m not saying I know the best answer, but I like the idea of waiting a semester, right? Let’s go virtual for a semester and then let’s go hybrid,” he says.

Szajner says online learning is an experiment they’ve already tried, and it failed.

“My son, Alex, really has strong feelings about it because he feels like he didn’t learn anything when they went virtual.”

Alex was happy to share his feelings and says it’s a topic he’s talked about with his friends.

“I feel like I, personally, need to go back into the classroom where I don’t have any distractions from anything else. When you are at school, you’re forced to do schoolwork. But when I’m at my house I can just do Xbox and things like that. At school, I don’t have that option. I was supposed to be doing virtual schooling but I felt like there were too many distractions from what I was actually supposed to be doing. If I have the option between playing video games and doing schoolwork, I’m going to play video games every single time.”

Alex’s mom knows her kids also like their time away from each other and that’s another reason she wants them in school. And Alex says he’s not too excited about being home with his siblings.

“At home, all I get to see is my brothers and my brothers are not particularly people I like to talk to that often.”

Alex is also worried about academic integrity.

“People can cheat on tests with their phone. You’re not going to learn anything if you’re Googling everything, it just doesn’t work like that.”

And his mom doesn’t see how student-athletes are ready to interact, but students can’t be back in class.

“They (athletes) have had the football players and cross country runners and everybody doing practice. And they’re following all the protocols, so it seems to be working,” Szajner says. “They’ve been doing weights and conditioning inside and practice outside for the last month and a half, and they’re following the protocols with masks and checking temperatures and asking questions every day. And as far as I know, none of the kids have gotten sick.” Tcaps Summer

There’s also ongoing concern over whether parents will have to arrange childcare options for those younger students. It will be a challenge for Jim Burke, but his alternating work schedule, along with his wife’s work-from-home arrangement, make it a little easier.

But Burke is worried for other families about what will happen in week three when kids are finally back in class.

“There’s no way to distance in some of those classrooms, in some of those hallways. There’s going to be ways in some of these schools you can’t distance. To shove them all back face-to-face is concerning for me, not just for my kids but also concerning for the community as a whole,” Burke says.

Van Reehnen wants to look at the big picture.

“Instead of getting so far down the road of ‘this is the way this is supposed to be and what we’re supposed to do’, let’s live today today and then let’s look at tomorrow. As parents, we want all the answers. As humans, we want control and want the answers. In this pandemic I think we just have to take each day as it is.”

Burke says he wants what’s best for his kids, but also for all kids and families throughout the community.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic and things are going to be different and they’re going to be harder. But I’m OK with that. It’s not just what’s best for me and mine but best for the whole community and all 10,000 TCAPS families.”

TCAPS says you can expect more communication from school principals about getting your students ready for the first day of virtual school.