COVID-19’s devastation to health care systems, economies, and lives can often be expressed in relatively clear numbers. By contrast, the wounds it has inflicted on children’s education and on their prospects for the future may be harder to articulate.
But with schools shutting their doors all over the country, there can be no denying that COVID-19 has had a massive impact on students and their families, both for the foreseeable future and here in the immediate moment.
“I have a son who is in eighth grade at Ohr Chadash Academy, and I have a daughter who is a graduating senior at Beth Tfiloh. And I have a daughter who goes to a university,” said Pikesville resident Rena Dubin, who attends Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim and made clear her children greatly enjoyed their in-person classes. “My college-age daughter is a biology major, and she has chemistry labs, and she loves the hands-on nature of those classes. … My son loves his Gemara learning the best. It’s like a boy’s class, and they learn with the rabbi.”
With schools shut down, however, many of these types of lessons are simply no longer feasible. “Now, [my college daughter] is only able to process the raw data, which is not as much fun for her,” Dubin said.
In addition to providing children with an education, schools also provide a safe environment for children to be watched over while working parents attend to their other responsibilities. As such, school closings have forced many parents into difficult decisions.
“I work full time, so I was thinking, ‘How am I going to do this?’” said Tracie Guy-Decker, a Baltimore City parent who attends Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. “Especially since I work for the Jewish Museum of Maryland, and The Associated had been talking about rules for coronavirus, about no children being allowed in buildings. And if [my second-grade daughter] can’t come to work with me, and if she can’t go to school, that doesn’t leave many options.”
Guy-Decker noted that the JMM closed its doors March 17, soon after schools closed, allowing her to work from home while simultaneously keeping an eye on her daughter.
Unfortunately, that is not an option for everyone.
“I actually am working out of the house, so I’m not home with my children,” said Brocha Lawrence of Pikesville, who also attends Suburban Orthodox. As a nurse who visits patients in their homes, her ability to look after her three children has been strained by the school closures, she said.
“I’m out all day seeing patients,” Lawrence said. “I’m off on Tuesday and Friday. I try to help them those days, but it’s hard when I also have to take care of daily house maintenance. My husband and I are both working full time. Thank God we have jobs, I know many people don’t. But we’re only two people, and we can’t do everything we need to at the same time.”
According to Guy-Decker, the situation remains difficult even when a working parent is able to stay home with her children. “Even in normal times, working mothers are expected to work as though they don’t have kids, and to parent as though they don’t have a job. And it’s truly impossible when you are asked to do both concurrently in your dining room. And as a result you feel like you’re not doing anything well.”
The fact that Guy-Decker’s husband is in the military and deployed overseas exacerbates the situation.
That being said, some parents see a silver lining in their ability to spend more time with their children. “I love having my daughter home. It’s great to see her every day,” said Yisroel Bluman of Baltimore City, regarding his daughter who attends Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women. “She certainly helps with preparing for Passover.”
Dubin echoed this point, saying that she and her children are “exercising together. I rode a bike the other day with my son, which I hadn’t done in years. Usually my senior in high school is rarely home, and it’s really sweet that she’s home so much now, because she’s planning to live in Israel for a year for seminary, starting in the fall. So this is really precious time for us.”
Dubin even expressed “mixed feelings” on the prospect of schools reopening. “I feel like my kids are at a healthier balance right now of doing learning, exercising, and playing outside,” she said. “Their schedule is more flexible now, which in some ways is really good. I want them to go back to school, but I’d like them to keep some of the positive changes that we’ve made, and I’m not sure if that’s possible with a long school schedule.”