An Open Letter to the Florida Department of Education

Today was our first day of virtual/distance learning. I cried for 30 minutes, all before 10 a.m. I thought there would be “instruction” from our child’s teacher, but I’m learning, that may not be the case.

New concepts will be taught in short video clips from the Internet or other teaching sources, and the bulk of instruction will be coming from parents. You know, in our free time.

Those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs and work remotely, are now supposed to navigate shouldering an abbreviated school day of six hours with our child, while working, while trying to keep our family safe, in a pandemic.

I can’t help but think of parents who are fighting on the front lines, working 12 hours a day to keep the rest of us safe. I’m thinking about the families who have a family member battling cancer or another hard health diagnosis. I’m thinking about the children whose family environments are less safe than the school environment. What about families with multiple children? What about families with children who have special needs, IEPs, 504s and learning disabilities?

After 10 minutes of a google class meet up so my daughter could see all her little friends, I looked at the amount of school work in our virtual classroom and broke down in tears. How are we supposed to do distance learning with a child who has special needs, a paraprofessional, three therapists at school, and every accommodation available in a school setting on her IEP? No matter each family’s unique situation, families are not set up to add another two full time jobs to our responsibilities.

I know that our county school district is just doing what they are required to do from the Florida Department of Education, which I’m sure is getting their recommendations from the Education Department for our country. Did anyone think that maybe a parent’s goals are a lot different than a school’s goals for their child when navigating a GLOBAL pandemic?

My goals are to stay home and healthy. My child, who like many in our world has a compromised immune system, she cannot get sick during this outbreak. We cannot find ourselves in a hospital trying to receive help through an illness. Not to mention that if she were to be exposed to the coronavirus and get sick, it’s possible she might be deemed “not worth saving” since she has disabilities.

This is all too much. It’s too much for everyone. Please don’t add teaching our kids to a laundry list of new requirements every single family now has. It causes undue stress on parents, children and life. We have enough stress that’s been added to our life.

Can the Department of Education realize that:

  1. I didn’t go to school to teach.
  2. My child’s teacher didn’t go to school to run a virtual classroom or learn what’s appropriate for online instruction during a pandemic.
  3. The learning environment is no longer cohesive or structured.
  4. Parents are working from home, trying to keep their current jobs, or find a new job.
  5. Children who are already struggling will find themselves frustrated, lagging behind even more.
  6. There is no reason to add additional anxiety and stress to parents and children during a time of uncertainty.
  7. As parents, we need to provide security and love.
  8. Life lessons are also important, maybe even more so now than meeting educational milestones.
  9. Realize that everyone’s best effort will look much different than in a structured classroom environment.
  10. Hitting the pause button on education for a moment in time is OK.
  11. Allowing our families to use this time to slow down, reconnect, have dinner together, plant a garden, pick flowers, go for a walk, watch movies, make cupcakes or stare at the sky, instead of rushing to complete assignments is important too.
  12. Adding stress to an already impossible situation is not helpful.

I’m sure some families can handle distance learning better than others, but the point of the public school system is to provide a predictable environment for learning.

According to the Department of Education’s website, “ED’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” Right now across our nation, equal access to learning is not happening. Virginia has shut down school for the remainder of the year, Pennsylvania is closed indefinitely. Each state has their own new standards of how to teach: PBS stations in Los Angeles, distance learning, zoom calls, or putting the burden on parents. One thing’s for sure and that is nothing is consistent or equal when it comes to education right now.

Equal access for kids with IEPs, learning accommodations and 504s are not being met. Access can’t be considered equal when the education is falling on families with different home environments, work obligations and access. Yes schools can help bridge those gaps virtually, but they fall short and the gaps remain, crossing county and state lines throughout our nation.

I am imploring the Florida Department of Education, and I guess in a larger sense, the Education Department for our nation to please consider stopping school for the remainder of the school year so we can resume when the health of the people in our nation is no longer in jeopardy. Please allow families to focus on what’s really the most important thing: staying safe and loving one another.

Sincerely,

An essential, full-time, working from home business-owner with employees, that is a mom to a special needs child, who’s also a wife to a husband who owns a business that is also considered essential, and who would also like to keep all his employees, and together we would like our family to remain somewhat sane in our planet’s current and shared environment.