Parents, teachers facing challenges, dilemmas as coronavirus drags on

By Laura Barros, Jairo Mejia and Alex Segura

Washington/New York/Los Angeles, Aug 12 (efe-epa).- For Elizabeth Smith, her experience as a teacher in a physical classroom is becoming a distant memory.

And now, even as educational authorities across the United States weigh which mode of instruction to employ in the 2020-2021 school year, she is contemplating a move to a different educational environment whose name captures the health-safety concerns gripping much of the planet.

Known as “pod schools,” they are the brainchild of affluent families in the New York City area who became frustrated with authorities’ plans for continued online instruction in the fall at their children’s regular schools and secured authorization for their kids to study for the time being in small, face-to-face groups.

These families are recruiting instructors like Smith, a high-school teacher who is mulling the possibility of leaving her conventional teaching position and instead working in a pod school established by a group of parents at a spacious farm on the banks of the Hudson River.

But anxiety about children staring at computer screens and not interacting face-to-face with instructors and fellow students is only one of several educational-related concerns amid the pandemic.

Smith told Efe that at least eight of her fellow teachers left their positions or started looking for other employment following a meeting with her school’s administration, saying the reason was the lack of a clear plan to prevent the spread of Covid-19 once students return to their classrooms in September.

The metropolitan areas of New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC are home to around 3 million students. Although remote instruction will not end abruptly in those cities, their plans for a staggered reopening of schools are sparking fears of a new wave of infections that could spread through contact in buses and hallways and make their way into people’s homes.

“I have a colleague with a partner with cancer, and it’s a really hard place to put people in,” said Liat Olenick, a member of the United Federation of Teachers who is employed by a school in New York City, which was the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring.

She added that educators are faced with a choice between quitting their jobs or putting a spouse, parent or sibling at possible risk of contracting the potentially fatal coronavirus.

Olenick also mentioned research that has suggested that Covid-19 can become long-range airborne in poorly ventilated spaces and said most of the Big Apple’s classrooms fit that description.

Echoing that concern is Rebecca Cook-Mack, a mother of two school-aged children in Brooklyn.

She has joined a group of 4,000 parents in New York City in signing a petition calling for their kids to receive instruction outside once the schools reopen.

“We’ve done this outdoor schooling even before the coronavirus made it essential. We did it because it was high quality education and kids learn,” Cook-Mack said. “I would say I believe that this will happen. Whether this will happen for all of our schools equitably depends on this mayor (Bill de Blasio) stepping up, and the time for him to think about it is over.”

On the other side of the country, the move to online instruction has been relatively smooth for the Hadzibabic Aspiazu family.

Maria Aspiazu, a 43-year-old Ecuadorian mother of two children – 16-year-old Nikolina and 14-year-old Mateja – who are old enough to take responsibility for their studies, said she is happy with the online approach though she acknowledged that other children “need a teacher to be on top of them.”

Many parents, meanwhile, are struggling with the reality of remote learning. One such case is Kelmary Salazar, a 43-year-old Venezuelan who has lived in the United States since 2016.

The pandemic has allowed her to spend more time with her seven-year-old daughter, but she also is dealing with the challenge of serving as a tutor in her second language.

“The language. That for me has been frustrating. I’m a frustrated mom right now,” the mother said.

Educational authorities in Springfield, Virginia – a town of just under 40,000 people where Salazar lives – decided last week to start the 2020-2021 school year with remote instruction, although they have not ruled out the possibility of shifting to a mixed model at a later date.

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