This post may refer to COVID-19

This post may refer to COVID-19

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Parents in 'limbo' as schools close, return to virtual learning amid COVID-19 surge

Parents in 'limbo' as schools close, return to virtual learning amid COVID-19 surge

The third school year during the pandemic had largely seen limited disruptions to in-person learning until winter break.


But this week, there have been over 4,500 temporary school closures across the country, according to Burbio, a company that monitors COVID-19 policies in over 80,000 K-12 schools. That's the highest number it has tracked so far this school year; most weeks, there have been hundreds, not thousands, of closures.

The prospect of a return to virtual learning, on a short- or long-term basis has some parents around the country concerned about the challenges of remote education and unpredictable childcare after great lengths were taken to keep kids in the classroom. For many, the move was abrupt, and issues faced in previous iterations of remote learning have not been solved.

By the same token, advocates say some parents feel the opposite, applauding the move temporarily to keep schools open in the long run. Others say they would like to return to virtual learning for safety reasons, but simply don't have the option. And of course, there are the teachers and staff in the middle of the process, with their safety and education concerns as well.

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'One of the last things we do'

Some parents who have found their schools temporarily closed have voiced frustration and disappointment in returning to virtual learning.

"Closing schools I think should be one of the last things we do, not the first thing we do when COVID cases go up," Amanda, a mother of two in Maryland who asked that her last name not be printed to protect her family's privacy, told ABC News.

Amanda's elementary school-aged sons attend Prince George's County Public Schools, where officials announced on Dec. 17 that the district would be going virtual for several days before the winter break and for another two weeks upon their return after a "stark rise" in school COVID-19 cases "significantly challenged" its ability to deliver in-person instruction safely.

Her sons, who had hoped being vaccinated would mean fewer disruptions, are "devastated" at going virtual, she said. She and her husband work full-time and find it challenging to help their kindergartener navigate Zoom. Their third-grader manages better independently with virtual learning but is "miserable" online, she said.

"My oldest hated virtual school last year. Every morning, it's just a fight," she said. "He's lost so much of the joy of school having to be remote for so long."

The temporary closures have left some parents wondering if remote learning may be extended or returned to in the future, and what metric that would be based on.

Without pandemic financial protections

Without the same flexibility and expanded financial assistance as offered earlier in the pandemic, they're also not sure how they can manage childcare while still working.

After losing her job due to the pandemic, Erin Wisniewski told ABC News she was able to stay afloat thanks to enhanced unemployment benefits while also being home for remote schooling. She's been back at work while her fourth-grader and kindergartner have also been back in person at the Bayonne School District in Hudson County, New Jersey, this school year.

When the district went remote this week due to high community transmission, she was able to have a friend watch her daughters. But she is worried about scrambling to make arrangements should the need arise again.

"If this is going to be for the next couple of months, it's going to be like, what bill am I not going to be able to pay this month so I can pay the babysitter to keep my kids in school," Wisniewski said.

The district told families Wednesday that it plans to return to in-person instruction this Monday, with the new option for continued remote learning "due to the current COVID-19 pandemic."