Why we decided at the last minute to home school DC2

We were not planning on homeschooling DC2.  We’d bought all the school supplies and scheduled the bus and the after school care.  We even had submitted a grocery order full of easy to pack and quick to eat DC-approved lunch foods.

If our schools had the same protections in place that they had last year, we would not be homeschooling.  We were even still planning on sending hir to school with no mask mandate, though we were uneasy about it.  What happened?  Well, first, at schedule pickup, less than 40% of everyone there was masked (it was waaay less at high school schedule pickup, maybe 15%?, though presumably all of the kids in high school have the option to get vaccinated, though in reality they don’t because they need parental permission).  Second:  we found out some really horrifying things about lack of parental notification and how they are discouraging quarantining, in exact opposition to CDC recommendations.  A kid could sit next to an unmasked covid positive person every class period and lunch and the parents would NEVER KNOW.  Additionally, quarantining will only be allowed for covid positive children, not children who have been merely exposed.  Since people can be contagious before they show symptoms or get the results of a positive covid test, this spells disaster.

I think what happened was they saw headlines from other states that had already opened without mask mandates and thought, well, we can’t have 800 kids quarantined for exposure if we don’t allow quarantines for exposure!

We started looking into virtual schooling options a few weeks ago when it became clear that no masking would stay the rule.  But it seems like it was too late and all of the highly rated virtual options were full while the ones remaining got poor reviews or looked scammy.

We are also going to have to be careful with DC1 since vaccinated kids can get Covid too.  We’ve upgraded DC1’s masks. When the weather cools down a bit we’re going to keep windows and doors open and the fans will be on all winter.  We bought an extra air filter for the mystery of the musty cupboard though I’m not sure whether to put it in DC1’s room (as the most likely carrier) or DC2’s (as the most vulnerable).  Possibly we should buy a third filter and do both.

I know there are naysayers who probably don’t read this blog (or who hate-read it) who think we’re being too risk averse.  But the thing is, we do not know what covid is like in a situation where someone without 100% working protective gear is constantly exposed to the virus.  (Healthcare workers wear protective equipment that fits AND they can eat lunch away from the covid ward.)  If nothing changes, these schools will become seas of virus particulate.  And no, I don’t think this is fear-mongering– it is just logic.  There’s a reason we have quarantines!  And we know that there are breakthrough infections and we know that covid infections are worse the more exposure to the virus someone has had.  On top of that, our hospitals are full and the children’s hospitals in our surrounding towns have been turning people away.  Any non-covid emergency is going to be more dangerous because of these problems.  And I’ve seen the full gamut of what can happen to covid-positive previously healthy young adults… there is no way of predicting who will be asymptomatic and who will have a brief hospital stay.  Or who will recover after a few days and who will still have massive brain-fog for the rest of the semester, possibly longer.  And DC2 is a foodie– losing taste and smell would be awful.  Not to mention that we have no idea what the long-run outcomes will be.

I’m a little worried about DC2 although zie assures us we shouldn’t be.  But this summer and last year zie had virtual classes with a teacher and other kids and had regular minecraft playdates with hir friends 2x/week.  The playdates are ending since hir friends are returning to after school care (we’d signed DC2 up too, but that was before our state and school district decided to go crazy).  There’s no virtual teacher to ask questions, no virtual class to socialize with.  And DC1 won’t be home during the day.  We did hire a Spanish tutor and are considering an English tutor, but that may not be enough.

I am also worried about how this is going to affect our careers.  We’re both working full-time.  During the school year I’m already frazzled trying to get all the parts of my job done plus just seeing day-to-day things with the kids.  There’s just too much going on.  This year will be especially bad because we are hiring for 3 open positions and we have several third year reviews happening.  DC2 has been given strict instructions on when we will have time for hir and hopefully that will be enough.  And zie has sworn zie won’t whine or tantrum, which I find extremely draining.  Hopefully zie will stick to that.  If I were planning on staying here forever, not getting stuff out this year might be ok, but I am desperate to leave this state, so I need to be active.

We hope to return DC2 to regular schooling just as soon as it is safer.  Right now we think that means mask mandates + actual quarantining + lower community transmission rates OR DC2 getting fully vaccinated + quarantining or parental notification or something.  But there might be some combination of the above that would encourage us to send hir earlier.  We were told that school returning from homeschool should only occur at the beginning of grading periods, so every 6 weeks we will look at what is currently happening.

I guess I’m going to split this into two posts.  This one explains our reasoning.  Wednesday’s will be a less emotional “what we’re actually doing” post.  Maybe there will even be some dollar values in it, who knows!

36 Responses to “Why we decided at the last minute to home school DC2”

  1. Ann Says:

    If I had children too young to be vaccinated, I would DEFINITELY homeschool them during this pandemic. Good for you for doing the right thing. It is horrible that the school district is willing to put all the other children at risk.
    Good luck with it. I homeschooled my kids (in an entirely different time when lots of socialization was available) and I always felt like I was happy to ‘buy my way out”. So get the tutors if needed, perhaps even a person to come in every day and review things? Anything to make it work without killing all the adults! It will be hard to work full time and add homeschooling to your schedule. But I support you 100% !

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’ve got a Spanish tutor set up, but haven’t heard back from my sister’s friend re: English tutoring which makes me think it’s not going to happen. It may be less work doing it ourselves than trying to find someone. We will be making extensive use of Khan Academy and online videos.

      We’re definitely not letting people into the house– so many of my super careful RAs got Covid last year that it doesn’t seem to be worth the risk. DC1 and I will still pose risks to hir, but we’re doing the best that we can to mitigate those (I will be doing everything via zoom except actual lecturing and am debating going back to double masking during lectures). I wonder what Mitt Romney is doing these days mask-wise.

      I wish I’d taken the semester off! Don’t want to deal with Trump supporters at all this semester.

  2. CG Says:

    Argh, I’m so sorry people are making it unsafe for DC2 to go to school. My knee-jerk reaction was, send hir to live with us in blue state for the semester. Ze can go to school and play Minecraft with our kids. :) That is probably not the most logical solution for many reasons, however. I wish you all the best as you navigate this totally crappy situation.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I KNOW. I totally suggested that DH take DC2 to live in Illinois right after their governor announced their mask mandate, but he said it would be less disruptive to homeschool. I’d even picked a highly vaccinated county!

      Email me at grumpyrumblings@gmail.com if you want to set up a minecraft playdate. We’re paying for realms! DC2 is 9 years old and in 5th grade, btw.

  3. gwinne Says:

    Yeah….so awful. I honestly don’t know what I’d do in your situation. My local school district is, thankfully, requiring masks, etc. Online schooling for Tiny Boy was so horrible we couldn’t do it again and homeschooling isn’t really a choice for me as a working single parent. I hope the situation changes in your area soon…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Doing this and applying to jobs to GTFO and trying to get research done so I’m attractive to other schools…

      If I had known, I would have applied for sabbatical last year and taken unpaid leave if I didn’t get it.

      I’m concerned that so many kids are going to get it that they’re going to say, no need for masks etc. now because we now have herd immunity through previous infections. Even though we really won’t.

  4. Alice Says:

    Here’s what I think as a random internet person:

    I would be really surprised if DC2 has no issues, mainly because I don’t think it’s possible to be a kid and not have issues with your parents periodically, virtual schooling or no. It’s good that DC2 has good intentions, though. It’s a nice place to start.

    As far as effect on your careers go… I’m coming to this as someone with an only child in the 4-5 age range. I had to step back from work entirely a lot in the last 1.5 years, so my perspective is probably skewed. My career has taken a massive hit. I don’t think it’s possible to have a younger child in the home 24/7 without its affecting the parents’ work. Older kids, I don’t know. I go through phases of being okay with not working and phases of really not being okay with it. During my best phases, I find that I’m centering on the idea that my identity is made of many parts and I can return to the work identity later. I also find that when I’m most okay about it, it’s when I’m seeing it as reflecting the values that are most important to me. This last year has involved a LOT of thinking about values and living in reality as it is, rather than as I wish it would be. I can’t say that I enjoy it or that I’m not complaining and worrying a lot in my head… but feeling that my choices are linked to my values is a big deal.

    I also think that in your situation, what you’re doing may actually be career-protective when all is said and done. You’re creating a more predictable situation for your family: you aren’t going to have to be contending with random quarantines and infinite worry every time DC2 gets sick or when you hear about someone else getting sick. Even if you can’t give 100% to work the way you used to, being stable in the time you do have is a huge thing. The parents whose kids are going to in-person in your environment don’t actually have that stability at all.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Except there won’t be random quarantines because quarantining if you’re not sick is not allowed! At least that’s what they’re saying. Once teachers start dying and kids get hospitalized (which is bound to happen given their current plan and our current numbers), they may change their tune.

      So basically we’d be having 10 days of DC2 being sick and quarantined, in theory. Which is not that different from a really bad flu or pneumonia. And there’s still the chance that DC1 or I will get DC2 sick.

      We are very blessed that DH and I can both mostly work from home.

  5. bogart Says:

    I’m so sorry you are having to deal with this. I don’t think of myself as living in a crazy liberal bubble (I live in a crazy liberal bubble) but seeing what is going around in other parts of the country makes me realize I live in a crazy liberal bubble.

    Your choices sound very sensible to me but at the same time, the whole setup/situation is very difficult and there’s clearly not lots you can do about that. This whole thing (the approach to the pandemic generally and particularly re-opening schools) appears to me to be a plot by Republicans to destroy women professionals, at all levels (i.e. everyone from house cleaners to tenured faculty) and I have to say, it’s a pretty powerful strategy (obviously aided by the patriarchy, but what isn’t?).

    My kid is vaccinated and is going back to school in person in a school system where masks are required for everyone, vaccines are required for staff (I believe though am not 100% confident that that label includes teachers), and people, including students, known to have been exposed to someone with COVID have to quarantine. I dropped off some supplies for a volunteer (school cleanup) event this morning and every single person I saw was wearing a mask appropriately, including a worker who was working outside, nowhere near anyone else. Damn am I lucky. BTW I’m still nervous for my kid and others (particularly those who cannot yet be vaccinated), because — Delta.

  6. Matthew D Healy Says:

    What a horrible situation! My fully-vaccinated niece and nephew will be attending High School and College in a State where ALL schools must require masks. And my Nephew’s college has a “show us your vaccination card or get frequent testing” policy.

    But there’s a good chance things will be much better where you are by the end of October if you can keep your kids safe for that long: the fact that the current wave of Delta Variant infections is rising so much faster than most of the Epidemiological models had predicted means much of the US probably will hit pretty high levels of immunity over the next 10 weeks. Unfortunately, I fear the human cost of getting that immunity will be very high: I think we’ll have something like 100 thousand more US deaths between end of July 2021 and end of December 2021. According to the experts whom I trust, South Dakota currently has about the same level of population immunity as Vermont, but VT got nearly all of its immunity by vaccination while SD has had about five times as many deaths per capita as VT. States with lower immunity levels than VT and SD are gonna get there the hard way.

    AND maybe by the end of October your younger child may have been able to get at least one vaccine dose.

    Nearly all of the deaths now taking place in the US could have been prevented with vaccines. My anger at those pushing anti-science messages for political reasons is deep and vast.

    In developing countries, more than 10 million people have already died, millions more are likely to die, and we will never know exactly how many: developing countries don’t have very good vital statistics. Even most rich countries have probably undercounted their COVID-19 deaths by something like 10% to 30%.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think that VT vs SD article was pre-Delta being widespread.

      • Matthew D Healy Says:

        Rather than rely on my memory, I just checked the most recent data and models on the sites I trust the most: both VT and SD are still well below the US national trends for reported cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. VT is below the national average for PCR %pos. SD is a little above the national average for PCR %pos, but not by a big enough ratio that I think the ratio of case counts is enormously out of whack (true infections are probably roughly proportional to the product of reported cases per capita times the square root of the %positive number).

        States with the most recent cases per capita include LA, FL, MS, AR, AL, and SC.
        States with the fewest recent cases per capita include ME, NH, PA, MD, SD, and VT.

        The Epidemiological models that have had the best track record do not project increasing daily deaths over the next four weeks in either VT or SD. Probably NO State is at full “herd immunity” yet, but VT and SD are closer to it than most. We’ll soon learn whether the Sturgis motorcycle rally brings on a surge, but my guess is it will mostly lead to cases in the States surrounding SD rather than in SD itself.

        So if Delta really is gonna hit SD harder than VT, well, I just don’t see that signal in the data right now. Of course, there is huge uncertainty in such forecasting, so all the models could be wrong. The models did not predict Delta. But we’ve seen enough Delta cases now that I really think the models have Delta mostly “priced-in” now. I’ve been watching each of the models gradually update its priors to reflect Delta over some weeks and it looks like most of them have converged.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It doesn’t matter if delta is going to hit VT or SD harder.

        It just matters if it is going to hit. If Delta means that no, actually there isn’t herd immunity and yes, it would still be dangerous to send unvaccinated DC2 to school after a substantial proportion of the population had gotten it.

  7. xykademiqz Says:

    You do what you have to do. I hope it works out for the best and with minimal disruptions.

    I can’t say that having two kids at home last year didn’t affect my work. Fewer papers in 2020 than what I usually produce. Then I had a big grant non renewed in 2021, which I will always think is my fault, even though there’s nothing else I could’ve done. I had to give my all to those who needed me: my kids; my undergrads in in-person classes for whom I was the only teacher they saw in the flesh all year; my grad students — so much emotional caretaking there, lots of issues with their mental health and lockdowns; very little work coming out, but who can blame them, seriously. I felt like a giant buffer between all these young people and the world that generally didn’t give a sh!t and expected continued peak productivity.

    Anyway, you can always send DC2 to hang out with us! I am only halfway joking. My youngest is in 5th grade, too, has recently turned 10 (he’s big on Roblox). He’s going to in-person school, and there will be masks, distancing, the works. I am worried, but in the background. Vaccination rates are high around here, schools take precautions, so there’s little else I could ask for. I really hope it’s enough.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I had a long reply here, but it got cut off by leechblock which hasn’t happened before (usually it posts the comment even if it times out).

      I think the main thing I said, but at length, was that I was actually a little more productive than usual because my kids aren’t as needy as students (there’s only two of them), and although I set boundries on homework questions, they’ve been more needy/chatty with our department secretary frequently gone. Me just not being there was helpful!

      And if your youngest wants to do a minecraft playdate, shoot me an email at grumpyrumblings@gmail.com. DC2 isn’t into roblox although hir cousins are.

  8. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Hybrid faculty meeting today– nobody was wearing masks. (I saw from my zoom screen.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I sent a picture to one of my friends in a different department and now she’s trying to decide whether to go in in a mask (so that other people are encouraged to mask) or to just go via zoom.

      • bogart Says:

        Hmmm. If said friend has kids <12 or is close to/cares for others who cannot be vaccinated or are vulnerable, I'd say Zoom for sure. If not … maybe go in, with mask? But maybe not. If Zoom, it would be great to note (maybe via chat) that virtual participation is a result of seeing not everyone present in person is masked. Of course I realize that may or may not be realistic/useful, depending on the friend's situation and the larger group.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        She does. But also her child is at the university daycare which is pretending there’s no pandemic, so…

  9. mnitabach Says:

    I don’t have kids but I definitely understand how gut-wrenching these decisions must be for parents. Sounds to me like you are making the best decision you possibly can in the face of only horrible choices.

  10. Lisa Says:

    Member of the choir here, but I appreciate your level of risk-averse-ness and it sounds like you have made the decision that will be best for your family in terms of both physical and psychological wellness. I know that, for me, knowing what to expect even if it’s bad is less stressful than the anticipation of bad things that might not pan out. If you need it, I give you permission to phone in everything but the activities you deem most important this year (like paying extra attention to the kids if they need it, publishing and promoting your work so you’ll be an attractive candidate for jobs that come up, etc.). And keep in mind that if all goes well, it could only be for the first half of the school year. I’m really hoping for vaccines for the 5-11 set at the end of the year or beginning of next. How would that be for a New Years gift?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      There’s going to be a lot of phoning in, I’m just not sure on what yet. Hopefully interacting with students!

      I’m really hoping for a vaccine before Christmas. Otherwise I think DC2 and I will stay here and DH and DC1 will go to the grandparents in the Midwest. My sister (who lives in driving distance) will like that! Even though she already gets thanksgiving.

  11. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    Given how terrible the options are, I’m so glad that you two can work from home a lot and hope hope hope that DC2 can handle the solo time as promised.

    I’m still very nervous for JB, even with the quad-ply mask, since they don’t have a vaccine but we’re still miles luckier and I feel terrible that you can’t even have what we have. I’m glad that you can at least

  12. Turia Says:

    I’m so sorry that the situation there is so grim that you have so few options. I’m in Ontario and while the government is trying to do its best to pretend that the pandemic is over (promising a return to indoor music! and contact sports! and the lunch room!), the school boards are digging their heels in. My kids have a mask mandate, but I’m still waiting to find out the details about eating lunch en masse (last year they all ate in their classrooms), cohorting, etc. Last year I sent them in cloth masks my mother made. This year I will be sending them in child-sized N95 equivalents. I feel like we just have to keep them safe for another six-eight months and then they’ll be eligible to be vaccinated and everything changes. All the school shutdowns almost killed us last year (the younger is newly 5; E. was fine but he also wasn’t paying attention to anything), and now I regret accepting the teaching that I did because I expect chaos will continue with Delta rampaging and our vaccination rates stalled below herd immunity status.

    But my situation is 100 times better than yours. I felt sick when I read your earlier post stating that you’d decided you had no choice but to homeschool. I’m so sorry. I hope you can make everything balance and keep a modicum of sanity. And I hope things improve eventually and DC2 can go back to in-person school.

  13. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Irony: the high school just sent a super lengthy list of dress code items. No pajama pants (or the standard slut-shaming stuff for girls) or slippers but not one mention of masks. Not even to encourage them.

  14. Karen Edwards Says:

    I think you are being completely reasonable! I don’t have kids but I do have a husband who is a teacher and we are really worrying about him going back to “normal” classes next week. We’re in the UK where they have just opened up the vaccines to 16-18 year olds (the ages he teaches) and the government has also just changed the self-quarantining rules where if you are double-vaccinated OR in a school, you don’t have to self-isolate!! Seems utterly crazy to me and unfortunately, we need his income so will just have to do the best we can and then hope for the best.

  15. rose Says:

    As a parent and grand parent……. I will never forget these decisions to knowingly and deliberately risk children’s lives and health when I vote. Same re the elders and medically frail.
    THANK YOU AS ALWAYS for writing and sharing your thinking. Deeply grateful my grands are in a state with a state wide policy of supporting public health measures. Wishing you, and all your readers, luck and health and positive news.

  16. Silvi Says:

    Another note of support – I think you are definitely making the right decision for your family. I live in Sweden where the head of the public health agency still does not recognize that the virus is airborne and there has never been a mask mandate because “masks do more harm than good”… So I feel for you. It is so hard when the people around you just don’t seem to have anyone’s best interests at heart.

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