Some District 65 parents say they are concerned about how they can provide the necessary support for their children who are engaged in remote learning at home and at the same time keep up with the demands of their job – either at or away from home. 

They are not alone.

Across the country, parents are expressing fears how to meet the demands of their jobs and the needs of their children.

Under School District 65’s remote learning plan, students in all grade levels will be expected to participate in remote learning at home for 5¾ hours a day beginning on Aug.27. An in-person option, with limited space, is scheduled to begin on Sept. 29, if it is safe to do so.

At an online town hall meeting held by School District 65 on July 29, several parents raised concerns that young children could not be expected to do 5¾ hours of remote learning a day, and asked whether it was realistic to expect that parents could instruct or guide their children while they were working full time.  

One parent said, “I strongly believe that five-and-a-half hours of online learning for a 6-year-old is detrimental to their development.” The parent added that it was unrealistic to expect that parents could commit that amount of time to remote learning and unrealistic to expect a 6-year old to do so.

“This is a dilemma that I think many people are in with young students,” said Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. “And the learning that we are going to provide is going to be a balance of some online learning and some activity that they can do away from screens, and realistically, the level of support that each student requires does vary based on the students themselves.

“But I will say that a 6-year-old will require, over the course of the day, some degree of support. We cannot, it’s not a reasonable expectation that the educator will be keeping them fully engaged for that full length of time.”

Many parents of young children in School District 65 facing the same dilemma are struggling to find ways to balance their children’s needs and their jobs. Two recent surveys, one by District 65 and another by the Washington Post, provide some insights into the magnitude of parents facing this issue.

The District 65 Parent Survey

School District 65 recently posted the results of a survey of parents, which was designed to gather information about parents’ needs and perspectives about reopening school for the 2020-2021 school year. A total of 5,075 parents responded to the survey between June 29 and July 15.

The State moved into Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan on June 26, so the survey was taken during a time when the State’s economy was opening up a little more, when the number of new COVID-19 cases was about one-half of what it is now, and when unemployment benefits were higher and more secure than they currently are.

The District cautions that circumstances have changed since people responded to the survey, and the respondents’ views may have changed as well.

The District 65 survey results do not provide the race/ethnicity or income status of the respondents. About 55% of the respondents have one child who will be attending District 65 this coming school year; 36% have two children attending; 7% three children; and 2% have four or more children.

About 36% of the respondents have children classified as English learners; 16% have children who have an IEP or 504 plan; and 9% have children who have a chronic medical condition, such as asthma or diabetes or who are immunocompromised.

The District 65 survey asked respondents if they anticipated they would be working in the fall of this year, and if so if they would be working from home or outside of their home. The survey results show:

  • 22% of all caregivers anticipated they would work from home
  • 21% of all caregivers anticipated they would work outside the home
  • 44% of the households anticipated they would have some caregivers who worked inside the home and some who worked outside the home
  • 12% of the respondents said the above configurations did not apply(one or more caregivers are typically in the home)

On an overall basis, it appears that all of the caregivers in 88% of the District’s households are working, either from the home or outside the home.

The survey asked respondents to choose among various ways to re-open schools for the 2020 – 2021 school year, assuming that some modifications would be needed to reopen the schools to ensure social distancing:

  • 36% preferred having their child attend school every day of the week, with two shiftsduring the day (e.g., a shorter in-person instructional day combined with some remote learning) to maintain smaller class sizes
  • 35% preferred having their child attend school on alternate days, (e.g., Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays) and participating in remote learning on the other days
  • 12% preferred having their child attend school on alternating weeks, while attending remote learning during the other weeks
  • 18% said they were not comfortable with returning to in-person instruction with such modifications and would want to keep their children home to do remote learning.

Respondents were then asked if they would need additional support for to assist them with remote learning, if the District adopted the option they preferred. The responses were:

  • 20% said they would need would need support and they would need options
  • 15% said they would need support, but they had options that could cover their needs
  • 42% said they would not need support
  • 23% said they were not sure they would need support

The Return to School Plan adopted by the District does not contain any of the hybrid options asked about in the survey. Under the District’s plan, the choices were either: 1) students would participate entirely in remote learning, or 2) students would participate entirely in in-person learning (starting Sept. 29, assuming there is space and it is safe).

Because the options listed in the survey assumed that about one-half the time would be in-person at school and one-half remote at home, the survey responses likely understate parents’ need for supports when a full 5¾ hours of remote instruction are taking place in the home each day.

The Washington Post Survey

On Aug. 17, the Washington Post published the results of a nationwide survey of 1,185 parents with children in kindergarten through 12th grades. The survey was conducted by the Washington Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Ipsos interviewed the parents who were identified in Ipsos’s randomly sampled panel of U.S. households.

One of the questions asked working parents about the impact an all-remote learning plan would have on their ability to work. Forty-four percent said it would make working “harder but not impossible.” Six percent said it would make work “impossible.”

This data was broken down by the grade level of the parents’ children in an Aug. 17 article “Working parents face tough decisions as schools reopen” in the Washington Post. That data show:

  • 66% of the parents of children entering grades K – 2 said it would “make working harder, but not impossible” or “would make work impossible”
  • 60% of the parents of children entering grades 3 to 5 said it would make working harder or impossible
  • 40% of the parents of children entering grades 6 to 8 said it would make working harder or impossible
  • 26% of the parents of children entering grades 9 -12 said it would make working harder or impossible

If the parents of children in grades K – 5 did not have an older child at home, the percentages who said it would make working harder or impossible jumped to 71%.

Parents were also asked about their concerns if their school provided an all-remote learning plan. The following percentages of parents said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned:

  • 68% said they were concerned their children will fall behind in their education
  • 26% said they were concerned that their family will struggle to find child care
  • 62% said that their child’s friendships will suffer
  • 57% said that their child will get depressed
  • 17% said that their child will not receive meals provided by their school.

Among parents who anticipated there would be remote learning this fall, 54% percent said they expect the quality to be worse than in-person classes; 12% think it will be better; 34% expect no difference.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...