Minnesota News Connection

July 28, 2020

With School Year Approaching, Some MN Parents Face Dual Dilemma

Mike Moen

MINNEAPOLIS — State leaders soon will announce their strategy for schools this fall with the pandemic still a public health crisis. Expected scenarios include in-person classes, a return to distance learning, or a hybrid. But for some parents, all options pose a challenge.

When Minnesota schools switched to distance learning in the spring, Tyrai Bronson-Pruitt of Minneapolis and her wife had to quickly adapt to providing instruction, while staying on top of their full-time jobs. Both parents worked remotely, but with one of their four kids having special needs and two older siblings needing help with daily assignments, it was difficult.

“It was just kind of day-to-day, kind of making it work,” Bronson-Pruitt said. “What assignments to we have to do? What do the kids need? How do we do that? How do we re-rig work schedules?”

She said she expects additional challenges if distance learning is part of the plan for the fall.

At the same time, Bronson-Pruitt said health risks for in-person learning are a big concern. Her wife’s immune system has been compromised since overcoming cancer. And as an African American family, she said, there are added worries, as the virus has had a disproportionate impact in Black communities.

Bharti Wahi, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota, said no matter the approach, they hope low-income schools aren’t shortchanged on resources. Whether it’s for building safety, access to healthy foods, technology gaps or parents working on the front lines, she said this can no longer be viewed as a temporary situation.

“We need to think about this as something that may be with us for maybe, potentially a year,” Wahi said. “And then how are we resourcing this appropriately? How are we supporting families? And how will we not lose a year of learning and academic support through a lack of planning?”

Wahi said no matter a child’s background, educators need to be mindful how jarring this situation has been for them, and that it won’t be easy jumping back into learning.

Tahnea Brown is a single mother from St. Paul. She said distance learning created more anxiety for her daughter, who thrives on social interaction. But she, too, worries about the health risks associated with sending kids back to the classroom.

But she said she worries even more about what other families might be grappling with right now.

“My child’s school is mostly people of color; there’s food insecurity, and sometimes there’s violence, and there’s stress,” Brown said. “So, how much more is this gonna add to these families, and these kids and these parents.”

Brown said she especially worries about food insecurity and families becoming more vulnerable due to a lack of nutrition.

Education Minnesota, the state’s largest teacher’s union, says a survey of its members found nearly half prefer to continue distance learning. Others, including state Republican leaders, have pushed hard for schools to reopen in the fall.