Back to School

It's fine. Everything is fine.

Last Monday, both of our kids started back to school. Daycare does a “camp” which seems to me to be largely…the same as daycare, but Lila moved up to the 3s class, which means a lot of changes. The major concern for us is that her teachers have a 10-1 ratio, making it even harder for her to get individualized attention. We were notified the week before school started that while her therapists are supposed to be coming back in person, they will be remaining virtual for at least a few weeks. We have put up with a lot of disappointment over the past 18 months but for some reason this absolutely crushed me. We have been pursuing private services, but many of them do not have hours that are feasible for working parents, and they do not provide community based services, or the ones that provide onsite services do not take insurance. Right now she is doing one day of private in-person speech with the hopes that they will be able to come to her eventually. But last Friday we went out there after rearranging our whole day and they didn’t have her on the schedule. So private speech isn’t going to be the answer either.

If you are not a parent of young children right now, you should know: parents of young children are not okay. We are not. Our kids have sacrificed over a year of their lives, done everything we have asked of them, and their social skills, emotional development, and academic progress have suffered for it. Since the beginning, parents of young children have borne so much of the weight of slowing community spread, and we got nothing for it. We are exhausted and we were barely holding it together before and now we have a year ahead of us that is just full of uncertainty and fear. We know that cases are increasing in kids, we don’t know how much more dangerous the Delta variant is for our kids, we don’t know when vaccines will be available for the under 12 set, and a lot of us are expected to return to work full-time in our offices sometime this fall. Nobody quite seems to have thought any of this through. Things have reopened enough that kids are getting exposed through not-school, so what happens when a kid needs to quarantine and miss 10 days of school? Schools are sending home entire classes to quarantine without a student testing positive yet. Parent are refusing to have their kids tested. We are 18 months into this and it turns out that NOBODY imagined a scenario in which unvaccinated children were going back into school buildings under otherwise normal circumstances. Baltimore City doesn’t start testing kids for another week but we are hearing reports of positive cases from various schools.

My office has announced that our plan to return to in-person work has been postponed until at least the end of October, so for the time being, I’m continuing to work from home, which is pretty much the only break we have gotten. Mark is back in the office full-time unless we have an appointment he needs to be home for. Aftercare at school is open and functioning for Molly, so we are just trucking along waiting for positive cases to start showing up and sending us back into quarantine and square one.

Last week, we started sending Lila to daycare in a mask. Honestly, this was a decision borne out of me getting tired of her being sick all the time since other people stopped masking. Baltimore City dropped its mask mandate in July and then reinstated it in August, so this isn’t a huge departure from the norm for us. We always knew that elementary school kids would need to wear masks upon return to school.

Towards the end of last week we were notified that there is now a mask mandate for kids 2 and up, so we are hoping that peer pressure will help even more with mask wearing, although she seemed to be doing pretty well with it. The biggest problem for us is finding masks that are small enough for her face. I ordered the Stride Rite masks for ages 2-4, which are soft and fit well; I got her a few more of our favorite kinds of masks, made by a local Baltimore mom friend (BaltiMasks); and if she is wearing a ponytail I’m able to secure the Primary masks over the back of her head well enough.

She is struggling with the transition overall, and according to the director she spent Wednesday just hitting the “mama” and “home” buttons over and over on her talker. We’re going to try sending her in with more family photos and maybe that will help. It hasn’t been a smooth transition, due to the staffing issues that daycares are having, and the kids are bouncing back and forth between two classrooms as they deal with shortages. She’s back to sobbing at dropoff and clinging to us and not wanting to go back into the classroom, which happened last January when she moved from infants to toddlers.

We are still in the process of figuring out how virtual special instruction will work in a class of 20 kids with 2 teachers. Right now the plan is for me to go to daycare to facilitate the special instruction and help the teachers work on goals, etc. We are also trying to figure out how best to integrate her talker into the classroom and how to communicate to her teachers (who we don’t see daily) what we are working on in various therapies. We will have her transition meeting sometime in the next month to decide whether we want to keep an extended IFSP or move her to an IEP and pursue placement in a school based program. This is particularly unattractive right now as families are facing severe shortages of transportation and 1-1 aides. I’m hoping things will be somewhat more resolved by the time we have her meeting, but I’m not particularly optimistic.

I feel like I need some kind of optimistic sign off right now, that is like, “we’ll figure it out!” or “everything will be okay” but honestly everything is a mess right now and there is nothing that will solve it but waiting it out. So, if you want to know what you can do to help, get vaccinated, wear a mask, wash your hands, stay home, do what you can to slow down Covid spread, and vote for people who will increase funding to school districts so they can pay bus drivers and paraeducators living wages.