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Parents Must Make Big Decision For Children As School Starts Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

NOEL KING, HOST:

If schools do open this fall, should parents send their kids into classrooms? A lot of parents are finding that question really hard to answer. Mary Rose Madden of member station WYPR in Baltimore has been talking with parents who can't quite decide.

MARY ROSE MADDEN, BYLINE: What to do about school? It's the only thing parents talk about. Will it be 100% virtual, 100% in-person, a hybrid model with some in-person teaching? Will masks actually be worn? Could shields and dividers help? Why not have all classes outside? Transportation issues, bathroom access, recess?

KATRINA RAYSOR: Hi. My name is Katrina Raysor (ph). I have a 13-year-old in Baltimore City Public Schools.

MADDEN: Raysor's son, Christian, has asthma. And her mother who lives with them has cancer. During COVID, she underwent radiation for the first time. Raysor couldn't go with her, of course. It was a very stressful time.

RAYSOR: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes (laughter).

MADDEN: But, she said, making the school decision, that was not hard.

RAYSOR: I'm not sending him back because of my mom's situation as well as him, you know? I can't imagine sending an asthmatic child to a school to wear a mask all day. I just can't. It seems cruel. And I wouldn't do that.

MADDEN: Raysor's an IT manager. The company she works for said everyone can work from home until all the kids are back at school full-time. But each person has their own unique circumstances, of course. On a local message board, one person wrote, my child will have to be in daycare when they're not on their AB schedule. But I can't find any daycare openings. And how is that safer than school? Someone else wrote that they don't feel equipped to homeschool their child. And with the traditional start of school just weeks away, Baltimore city school administrators haven't even decided what they'll do yet.

NOAH WALKER: I love working with these students.

MADDEN: Noah Walker (ph) teaches pre-K in Baltimore at the same school where his daughter is a student.

WALKER: I love what I do. And I don't want to walk away from my position.

MADDEN: But he says he doesn't want anyone to be forced into harm's way. At the same time, Walker says, online teaching doesn't lend itself to early childhood curriculum.

WALKER: I see exactly how they learn through the social interactions with me, with the other students. However, it's really, really hard because, for lack of a better way to say it, these little kids are gross. They sneeze. They cough. They can't tie their shoes. They can't button their pants.

MADDEN: They're germy. And social distancing doesn't come naturally to them.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHIMES RINGING)

MADDEN: Mia Loving is sitting on the stoop of her rowhouse. She owns a business and has three kids. Online learning is tricky, she says. Once her 6-year-old got hold of a device, she wouldn't put it down. She became obsessed with the video game Roblox.

MIA LOVING: I would take the phone, or I would take the devices. And then, you know, there was a lot of acting out until I was just kind of like, OK, just get your stuff because now, again, I have this meeting that I have to do.

MADDEN: If the work-life balance thing didn't feel impossible before, now it's a joke.

For NPR News, I'm Mary Rose Madden. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.