A few years ago, I gradually transitioned from a full-time stay-at-home, homeschooling mom to a part time job to a divorced mom working full time as a public school Speech Language Pathologist. When COVID hit, I considered becoming a full-time district employee, but even factoring in the benefits, it would have been a decrease in pay. I love what I do, and I love the community and district in which I work, but I could not afford that.
For me, like most of us, the spring of 2020 hit hard. I managed to cobble together enough parents who were willing to do teletherapy that I survived. Like much of Arkansas, not every kid has access to the same resources in our rural district. Many of my parents were working essential jobs at the poultry processing plant while arranging care for their children and supervising their children’s education. It was hard, but that was true for most of us. There was a feeling of just trying to survive these unprecedented times.
Last year, like many educators, I started school with a feeling of apprehension but also optimism. I was anxious to see my kids in person again. Honestly, it was a lot of extra work. I had kids on site, virtual kids, and even virtual kids who came on site just for therapy. However, there was a feeling of camaraderie in the schools and with families. It felt like staff was doing what we could to put our students first and keep everyone safe. Families seemed to appreciate what educators were doing. Rules were clear and seemed to work, and the kids were rock stars.
This year is different. Before we started the year (the 3rd school year impacted by COVID), I had been told to consider it a “normal” year. There was no mask mandate. Because of poor state leadership, the quarantine protocols for individual schools are complex and seem somewhat arbitrary. It just feels very chaotic and disorganized on the state level, which has contributed to a much less cohesive unit within my district. From school staff to families, we are all just tired.There was a feeling of just trying to survive these unprecedented times Click To Tweet
Then, on the 2nd week of school, my kids were exposed on the way to their dad’s house. We found out the day my youngest transitions to my house for the week. (My oldest lives with her dad full-time.) I left school early that day to pick her up and was greeted by several parents there to pick up their own children. Assuming they had the same quarantine procedures, those parents also had to arrange for their child to be in quarantine for 9 days.
District employees are allowed to take a set amount of COVID leave when a dependent is in quarantine. After that, they must use sick days. After that, they are actually charged for the substitute the district provides. My best friend’s daughter actually ended up in quarantine at the same time as my kids. She fielded questions and problem solved from home while keeping an active grade schooler entertained and using her COVID leave.
As a private contractor, I did not have COVID leave or any paid leave. I am not eligible for unemployment or short term disability. I do not have things set up to work from home in this situation. I do not have an emergency sitter for this. (My mom is a cancer survivor awaiting cardiac surgery.) In no way is my situation unique. In fact, I feel blessed to have the options I have had. My rent is paid. My family has food. None of us actually contracted COVID. My child returns to school tomorrow. My district has since implemented a mask mandate. However, it feels like we have become conditioned or immune to the hardships we are facing from COVID. While I am ready for a return to normal, I am hoping that until that happens, we return to that feeling of community spirit and caring for our neighbor that was felt last year.