‘I feel anxious. I feel excited’: ASD parents start sending kids back to school

Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 7:33 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s been a long 10 months for some parents in Anchorage. In that time, there was uncertainty, fear, frustration, confusion and a slew of other emotions for the people who suddenly had to add home-school teacher to their resumes. Now, some children are finally starting to return to Anchorage School District classrooms.

For now, it’s just children in regular curriculum up to the second grade, children in special needs programs up to sixth, and select middle and high school students who are back in the building. The district said the plan is for everyone to be back by the fourth quarter.

It’s a big moment for a lot of parents. After more than one delay in sending students back since last March, Becca Hanson said she “didn’t even believe they’d be going back.”

Hanson has two kids — a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old — both in special needs programs in Anchorage. She said when she suddenly had to make sure they were doing their school work, she quickly felt under qualified even with the time to devote to them as a stay at home mom.

“I was not prepared for it,” she said. “I believe that there’s a reason that teachers are educated on how to teach.”

She said, “Point blank, our kids need to be back in school,” because of all the kids who don’t have stay-at-home parents.

It’ll still be a few more days for them because Hanson said she was recently exposed to the virus, but “it’s better to find that out now rather than send them.”

Hanson said she thought it was a bit extreme to take the kids out of school at first, but she reconsidered how she thought about it due to the numbers of outbreaks she saw reported throughout the pandemic.

Not getting other people sick is a concern that Chanti Ward shares as well. She has a 4-year-old who is going to school today.

Ward, like many parents, feels lucky about who is teaching her daughter who’s been updating her weekly on her progress. They’ve become pretty close, which is why she has one major concern about bringing the children back.

“I wish the teachers had both vaccines to protect them,” Ward said.

Although, that same teacher told Ward that she wants her daughter to be back in school. Once she heard it from the teacher, Ward said she felt better about that fear, but still could have waited until they had that layer of protection.

Ward also brought up that 10 months is a long enough time to get educated on certain things, like transmission risks.

Ward said her daughter was born prematurely and has a heightened risk of severe complications from the virus. In March 2020, she said she wouldn’t let her go anywhere for fear of catching it. Now, she said they’ve talked enough where she understand that a risk doesn’t mean the worst outcome.

“That made a huge, huge impact on me,” Ward said. “Where I went from being panicked to ‘well it would really really suck but it’s going to be okay.’”

Ward said it is just her and her daughter in her household and no elderly family members live with them. She said she understands parents who don’t want their children being a transmitter to older family members.

Up in Eagle River, Jennifer Monegan has a full household. She has a 16-year-old, a 9-year-old, a 6-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 20-month old. Her husband is gone every two weeks as a slope worker, but Grandma and Grandpa are over all the time helping out with the kids.

Only one of her kids is going back today, the 6-year-old, but Monegan said it’s the one who wants and needs to be back in school the most.

Although she’s ready to get them all back in the building, she thinks the school district is going to learn a lot and work out some kinks with the group going back now.

“It makes sense,” Monegan said. “I feel like with pre-K, kindergarten, first and second grade, it’s very difficult for those little bodies to stay still. It’s very difficult for them to stay focused and pay attention and in those first few years when they’re trying to get used to this routine I think that it’s good that they’re doing it in waves so they can see what’s working and what’s not working.”

Explaining the return to school is proving to be almost as hard as explaining why they aren’t in school for her 6-year-old.

“He doesn’t quite understand, he says, ‘Oh this means the virus is over? This means that corona is gone? This means that I can go back to school?’” she said.

She said answering him is easier because of the school he’s going to. Monegan said she’s feeling quite optimistic about the return because of how informed she’s been about the whole process with the district.

While there’s excitement in the air about starting to return to normal, all these parents expressed how they are hoping that the plans work and they don’t have to go back to distanced learning models.

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