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We asked, you answered: Are parents comfortable sending their kids to school?

Readers replied to our social media accounts to give us thoughts on education options while dealing with coronavirus.
Teachers and their supporters protest plans to reopen schools at Pinellas County School District headquarters in Largo on July 14. Many of our social media users agreed with educators and parents who do not want classrooms to open this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Teachers and their supporters protest plans to reopen schools at Pinellas County School District headquarters in Largo on July 14. Many of our social media users agreed with educators and parents who do not want classrooms to open this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Jul. 24, 2020

As the start of the school year approaches, Florida families are dealing with a difficult choice — send their children to school as normal, with some precautions in place, or keep them home with some form of virtual learning.

Dates for different Tampa Bay counties have been fluctuating and pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic, but most counties are offering those two two main options.

We took to social media to ask readers their opinions about the options offered.

We received thousands of votes and responses through two Facebook posts, an Instagram story and a five-day Twitter poll.

An overwhelming majority of the people who responded voiced their concerns about sending their children to school. Many acknowledged they knew some parents could not keep their kids home any longer due to work and what one user would call the ”corona privilege.”

Our Twitter poll had three options for the question, “Are you comfortable sending your child to school?” — Yes, no and “show results,” which allowed users to see the results of the poll without their vote being counted if they chose to abstain from voting.

An large majority of voters in the poll said they were not comfortable sending their children to school. This aligned with the replies and emails we received in addition to poll results on the other platforms.

Excluding users who clicked “show results,” we received 1,966 total votes. Of those, 23.8 percent of voters said they were comfortable sending their children to school, and 76.2 percent said they were not comfortable.

Twitter user @SylChristensen1 said she isn’t comfortable sending her kids to school, and would be forced to move out of their shared home if the kids did attend school.

“Nope. 1) not risking the health of our kids 2) not willing to endanger the staff at the school 3) I am immune compromised and that would mean I’d have to leave my family and move out during the school year,” she wrote. “My husband would have to manage their schooling & also work full time.”

Those in favor of their children returning to school emphasized the need for kids to socialize and to physically be in class.

“My three kids all want to be in class. The milquetoast excuse for eLearning that closed out the past school year was hardly challenging. Yes there are risks, but there always have been since they stepped in school the first day,” wrote Twitter user @Darkside2Light.

We also asked users to post comments on Facebook, where many respondents also expressed concerns about their children returning to school. Some commenters, however, said they believed returning to school was in children’s best interest.

Are you comfortable sending your kids to school this year? Our reporters want to hear your voice. Tell us why or why...

Posted by Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday, July 15, 2020

“Yes, I am comfortable sending my child back to the classroom,” Jennifer West Marks wrote. “As a teacher, I am also comfortable going back to my classroom. The disastrous mental, physical and educational consequences of keeping kids behind a computer all day in their bedroom is the primary reason I am leaning in this direction.”

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Parents who are opting to keep their children home for virtual learning options cited multiple reasons. Some have immunocompromised family members, or suffer from health problems themselves. Others are healthcare workers, and others did not trust their school’s ability to stop the spread of the virus. Many parents did acknowledge some families may not be in a position to keep their kids home for school.

“I understand the ‘corona privilege’ is real and not all parents have the ability to facilitate e-Learning and also work. However, for those of us that do, I feel it is my social responsibility to keep my children home so those that cannot can have a (hopefully) safer environment for their kids,” Amanda McCartney wrote on Facebook. “I am frustrated with parents who can facilitate e-Learning yet claim their kids want to go back or that they need to go back for their mental health. Of course kids want to be around their friends! But I don’t allow my 9-year-old, for example, dictate vaccinations simply because she does not want a shot.”

Others told us why they need to send their children back to school.

Tiffany Ward Keller shared her thoughts about why she is sending her kids back to school with us on Facebook: “I have 3 kids with special needs and virtual schooling was hell with them,” she wrote. She said she didn’t want to put teacher or kids at risk, but there was “a way to do face-to-face safely.”

Some parents called for clarity from the school system, and the Florida government. Others asked for a hybrid option to be offered, or something that would cater to those who cannot afford child care while working.

“I have a child starting Kindergarten and would prefer the hybrid option, where in person classes are on a rotation, allowing for smaller class sizes especially for younger kids who don’t fully understand how to safely distance,” Jeni Belinc DeGregorio said on Facebook. “Masks are a must in any classroom setting. I also believe we need to delay the start to get better organized. At this point I do not feel safe allowing my child to return to full time traditional brick and mortar learning. It’s very frustrating because my child needs that structure and socialization.”

Twitter user @ResisterDoggie criticized Governor Ron DeSantis’ work and the options now being offered, and also expressed interest for a hybrid option.

“...I don’t want my son to be in front of a computer for seven hours, but I don’t want to risk his health. But his mental health matters too — I feel this was severely mishandled from the outset, with a Gov more concerned about re-opening the economy than making our state safe for schools to re-open. And what about the teachers/staff? They are at terrible risk and [is] there a real plan in place for what to do when someone gets sick. Who gets contacted? What if tests are hard to find? Will the whole class go on 14 day lockdown? How will they find subs willing to enter [the] classroom? How will they afford the PPE and cleaning needed? It’s a disaster.”

Many people replying to our posts mentioned needing more information from the school system before they were able to feel comfortable sending their children to school.

On Instagram, we received 50 responses from followers. Users like @marjanehna told us they wanted their children to go back to school in order to go back to work: “I prefer my kid go back to school! I need to go to work to be able to feed my family,” she wrote.

Others, like @timintampa, told us stories of putting their loved ones at risk.

“Parent of a kid with cancer and another in Elm school,” he wrote. “Wife is a teacher. This is terrifying.”