Erika Benson doesn’t envy the job teachers face this coming school year, but she acknowledges it won’t be a walk in the park to be the parent of a public school student, either.
Benson, a nurse practitioner for La Familia Medical Center, was one parent who answered a survey sent by Santa Fe Public Schools seeking input on what learning model parents would most like to see for the 2020-21 year amid the COVID-19 pandemic — a regular school year with in-class instruction, remote learning or a hybrid model that combines the other two options. Students would be at school for two days out of the week and learn remotely the other three days in the hybrid format, according to the survey.
The school district sought input from parents, district staff members and students about the potential instructional models it could use before presenting its plan to the state’s Public Education Department for approval next month. The district extended the deadline for responses; parents and staff members have until noon Thursday to submit their responses, and the students’ deadline is July 6, said district spokesman David Carl.
Benson, who has a daughter entering the fourth grade at Carlos Gilbert Elementary School, acknowledged she wasn’t thrilled with the choices.
“I feel like none of them are a good option, but we’re in an impossible situation,” Benson said. “The hybrid model sounds very difficult for working parents, especially if is an irregular schedule. I worry about the teachers, because it would be double the work for them. And I’m very worried about teacher burnout, and they are not getting paid enough, anyway.
“I’m very, very concerned.”
Veronica García, Santa Fe Public Schools superintendent, said she is aware of the challenges school districts in general face trying to develop an instructional plan while the COVID-19 pandemic continues. However, she said the school district is not inflexible in its approach. In fact, García posed the possibility that next year could see a mixture of all three models, and she added that parent input was crucial in helping the district map out a path that both protects students while also not placing a huge burden on families.
“We need a lot more information for planning so that we can offer options that will allow us to bring more kids in a face-to-face model and still accommodate parents who are uncomfortable and have concerns about sending their kids back to school,” she said.
One idea Garcia said might be possible is allowing for in-school instruction for students from kindergarten through third grade, while the other grades could use the hybrid option. She emphasized it was important to accommodate the needs of families.
Yuki Murata, a parent of an incoming fourth grader and ninth grader, said having options is crucial. “I would be willing to see my high schooler doing all online,” Murata said. “I can leave my high schooler alone in the house. We’re not leaving our fourth grader alone like that.”
Adrienne Cole, a teacher at Amy Biehl Community School who will have three children in public school next year, said regardless of the models, staff members with school-age kids face a daunting task of balancing work and family. She said she chose the remote model because it best fits the needs of her family, especially since both she and her husband are teachers in the school district and could work from home.
She added administrators have talked with staff members about having co-teachers to ease the workload, especially for those with children.
Still, other parents don’t have those options, Adrienne Cole said, and it is creating plenty of anxiety among her friends.
“I think it’s overwhelming for parents,” she said. “I know that when I start to think about it, I get panicked and worry about all these things as a teacher and as a parent.”
Benson said she is considering taking a leave of absence from her job to focus on helping her child. It’s not an ideal option, but she recognizes there aren’t many choices available for parents.
“I feel for Dr. García,” Benson said. “I don’t know how anyone would manage this situation when we are in a sea of unknowns and trying to ensure the safety of our children. And make no mistake, there will be kids who test positive in Santa Fe. I don’t know how they will handle that.”