Pacing Ourselves For the Long Haul (Plague, Day 20, March 23, 2020)

11:00am — I calmed down a bit this weekend. I’ve been on overdrive for the past 14 days. Longer, if you include Ian’s medical emergency that happened in the beginning of the month.

I still had a ton of stuff do around the house, but I wasn’t totally stressed out about getting something published. My USA Today article about the impact of the school closures on kids with disabilities came out on Saturday morning and is continuing to do really well.

Every day, I give thanks that Ian’s health emergency happened before things got nasty. My uncle in Florida is in the hospital in ICU all by himself. The family can’t visit him. My cousin, Jenn, is getting chemo and is extremely immune compromised. They’re suffering alone and vulnerable. I worry about them every day.

On Sunday, Steve and Jonah brought all his college crap home. They did two trips back and forth with two cars. Now, I’m organizing space in the basement to make room for a mattress, box spring, dresser, desk, microwave, and all the other crap that he won’t need until he gets another apartment sometime down the line. He was slated to move into a dorm next fall, but who knows what will happen.

This mess isn’t going to be wrapped up in a tidy little bow in another week, as much as our president would like that. We’re looking at months of destruction to our economy and way of life.

I drove around this weekend just to get out of the house. I passed people lining up to get into Whole Foods, jogging along the side of the road, kicking a soccer ball on an empty school field. How many of them will be sick in another week or two? We’re all walking time bombs.

A disaster with a long tail is going to have a major impact on a whole generation of kids. How many are never going to go back to college this fall? How many will lose friends and family members? How will life in an economic tailspin impact them? Will they become compulsive hoarders, like our grandparents, stockpiling cans of beans and toilet paper in the basement?

I sat Jonah down this weekend and asked him how he was doing. Boys need to be asked directly how they feel about things, because they tend to swallow up their emotions.

Jonah said that he was missing his friends enormously. He was sad for other friends that would miss graduation and other milestone celebrations. He’s been chatting almost constantly with friends through social media, but being stuck in his parents’ house isn’t a fun time. Today is his first day of online college education.

I’m most worried about Ian. In some ways, he’s well prepared for life on a computer, because he excels with anything that deals with technology. For him, the problem isn’t math problems on Khan Academy, but the fact that he’s separated from real people and from structure. He’s in mourning.

After talking to Ian’s teachers today, we’re all agreed that they will check in him once a day for the continuity and social contact. He doesn’t have any friends, so he really needs to keep contact with teachers ,and for Steve and I to make sure that we talk long walks with conversations every day. We can’t let him lock himself in his brain.

I need to take a break from this make hard boiled eggs for egg salad sandwiches for lunch. The grind of prepping three meals a day is already tiresome. Back later.

When schools close or go online, what happens to students with disabilities? (Plague, Day 19, March 22, 2020)

I’m a parent of a high school student with high functioning autism and epilepsy. As schools all around the country announce shutdowns and move towards online education, kids like mine are going to suffer the most.

The move to online education, which has been largely driven by the imperative to maintain the 180-day minimum without taxing already stretched budgets or running afoul of teachers’ contracts, will be difficult to manage. To date, nearly 42 million students. have already been impacted. Will teachers and administrators manage to create an entire system of online K-12 education from scratch in a handful of days? Do teachers have the technological skills, equipment, or experience to implement those plans? Do families have enough computers for themselves and all their children? The questions are endless.

We’re in the midst of a huge educational experiment and really have no way of knowing how it will work out.  There are even more problems and questions around online special education.  

More here.

Excerpt From Newsletter, It's The End of Public Education As We Know It, But I Feel Fine!, (Plague, Day 18, March 21, 2020)

From the latest newsletter. Sign up, please!

It’s The End of Public Education As We Know It, But I Feel Fine! 
Apt. 11D, 3/20/20

Hi all!

What I’ve witnessed in the past week is the absolute implosion of public education. Who knew that this 100-year old institution would falter so severely? I suppose that at this moment in time, schools are the least of our problems, but I’m still going to talk about them anyway. 

In the past week, more than half of all school districts in the country shut their doors. Some shut down entirely. Some are doing some sort of online education. But nobody knows for sure, because only one online education journal is keeping track. And this journal doesn’t even know which schools are shutting down entirely and which ones are attempting some sort online education. Nobody knows. Isn’t that weird? 

Or maybe it’s not weird. We have a system of hyper-local schools in this country, which is hopelessly inefficient and expensive. This is just one of the many problems with public education that is being exposed by this pandemic. 

Perhaps even more important than its job in the provision of learning and wisdom, our schools feed the nation’s poor. And as we’re discovering, it is also a system of childcare for just about everyone, regardless of income. When the school system collapses, children go hungry, and parents get fired from work. 

The other problem with our education system is that nobody is in charge of this mess. It’s all up to each town. So, each town is handling this crisis differently. A thousand different superintendents are coming up with a thousand different plans. And some of these plans royally suck. Some closed the schools for two weeks and formed a coherent plan. Others shut the schools for an afternoon — just a couple of hours really — to figure out how to put together an education plan for thousands of children. 

Some schools are having their teachers do online classes using programs like Zoom during the old classroom hours. Other schools are just putting up some worksheets on Google classrooms. None of them have a proper plan for how to deal with special education. And guess which school districts have the worst plans? Yes, the poor ones of course. So, by the end of this crisis, the kids in the richer schools will be just fine, and the kids in the poorer districts will be further behind. Surprised? Yeah, of course not. 

Some school districts are trying to pretend that parents are partners in all of this. Ha. Partners are usually consulted and paid for their time. Parents are pissed. I would be surprised if any school district is still maintaining this illusion of online education by the end of March.  

And the states seem to agree. Some, like Michigan, have said that none of this online stuff will count towards graduation or their 180-day requirements. Schools will have to educate kids during the summer to make up for lost time. In other states, the teachers’ unions will presumably have a meltdown about plans to teach in the summer, but we haven’t heard from the unions yet, so who knows? 

My guess is that summer school will happen for sure, because there’s no way that these inconsistent, half-baked online classes can be considered a proper education. The programs that rely on parents are especially problematic, because parents aren’t certified teachers, and the unions have made all sorts of laws about certification that can’t be undone easily. Between state constitutions and federal special education laws, schools will be in a bind. They will have to figure out how to make up these hours at a later date. 

The one hope with all this mess is that we are getting a better understanding of all the problems in society and government. The pandemic will shine like a black light on a crime scene and show us what we need to do better.  Maybe we should have a Universal Basic Income. Maybe workers in a gig economy need more protections. In terms of education, we are definitely going to need a much higher level of centralization and leadership than we have now. We are also going to have to separate schools from other social services; schools can’t wear too many hats. 

Here at Apt. 11D, my family is doing fine. We’re a little stir crazy. All this togetherness isn’t easy, especially with a semi-independent college kid in the mix. But we’re healthy, most importantly. 

This newsletter was always supposed to be a bi-monthly enterprise, but with the crisis, I’ll be here more often. I’ve got an op-ed coming out in the am tomorrow in USA Today. Look for it! 

Be well! Laura

Plague, 16, March 19, 2020

10am — Lots of info/tips/suggestions:

1. As a photographer, a friend’s business is shutdown. Luckily, her husband’s job is solid, so they’re not in trouble. She is offering a free online photography class next week for people in the community. I love the idea of freely sharing skills in this crisis.

2. On the town Facebook pages, there’s a lot of confusion about whether or not people are allowed to walk outside, especially since town parks, fields, and tracks are closed. Getting outside for a walk is extremely important…
It’s best to have a super strong immune system BEFORE we get sick. So, we should be quitting smoking, hiking, running, eating well. More than ever, we should be outside walking.

A daily walk is essential for one’s mental health and surviving social isolation. On my walk yesterday, I saw some neighbors and waved, but they were on the other side of the street. Too far away to spread infection, but close enough for a smile and a wave.

Once we get sick, which will happen, lots of evidence shows that sunlight and fresh air helps.

3. An extremely generous and kind and awesome friend texted me yesterday to see if she could donate $$ to the church food pantry that my dad runs. It feeds 800 families per week, btw. There’s food insecurity everywhere. Here’s what I will tell her:

Wait. The states are passing a bunch of legislation that will deal with food insecurity immediately – millions for food pantries, added SNAP benefits, extended school free lunch programs. Besides dad’s food pantry is run with 80-year volunteers. It might have to shut down. I won’t let my dad go there now.

So, let’s wait to see where the biggest needs are in the coming weeks. It might be food delivery to old age homes. It might be running the food pantries. Money might be need more somewhere else. Pay attention to local social media for alerts for help.

4. Here’s a big need: online mental health support for students who are having huge spikes in anxiety. Young people went into this crisis with pretty crappy anxiety levels. They’re totally losing it right now.

Schools need to immediately learn how to use video conferencing software, like WebEx and Zoom. Like right now. Higher ed profs are using it, but not so much with K-12 teachers. These students need live, online, video mental health conferences with school social workers and psychiatrists.

If we’re going to triage the problem, help should go first to students with diagnosed issues — general anxiety/depression, autism, etc… This help is needed much more than another math worksheet.

The Plague is Here, Part Ten — Germs Don’t Care About Social Inequality, So We Should. Later.

While every other state and city in the Northeast has shutdown and moved to online education, Mayor DeBlasio hasn’t. He’s keeping the schools open.

There are 400 cases of the virus in New York City.

He said that if he closed schools, most likely students wouldn’t get any education until the fall. With its high number of low income students, there is little chance that they can maintain the pretense of an education that is happening here in the suburbs.

He’s also said that schools are the main place where students are fed every day. Without the school cafeteria, kids are going to go hungry. They may be left alone, because their parents don’t have the type of jobs that transition to home.

Closing the schools will, no doubt, lead to MASSIVE pain among low income families. Pain that you can’t even imagine.

But not closing them will lead to other pain, but all those kids and school personnel will be trading germs. People will get sick. They’ll bring those germs home and infect their grandparents.

Imagine a two-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights with windows that face the dark courtyard behind the building. Imagine an entire extended family living there. Breathing on each other. Going out to school and jobs. They will all get sick very soon.

The virus is going to do MASSIVE damage in those poor communities. There’s not much we can do now, but we will have to rethink everything when it passes.

The Plague is Here, Part Seven

I’m powering through article after article this morning. If I can’t get any of them published, because school stuff is lower priority to health, political, or economic issues, I’ll post them here.

Here’s how to clean your cell phone.

My college kid wants to spend his spring break in Alaska with his roommate. Will someone drive to my house and tell him “no” for me? He’s going to flip out.

Our entire school district is closed and will supposedly move online next week. hahahaha. That’s not going to work at all.

Church closed. No weekend services during Lent.

I filled up the car with gas, took out money from the ATM, spent another $200 at the supermarket.

Keep the economy going and buy some cute outfits online this weekend.

OPINION: Marching band sets the right tempo for many special-needs kids

With plumed caps and braided epaulets for miles, marching bands are a staple of the high school football game. Students stride purposefully around the field with piccolos and tubas, and synchronize their steps to Billy Joel medleys, homages to Mary Poppins and even a snappy march or two from John Philip Sousa. Girls in flared skirts and knee-high boots triumphantly wave flags or twirl wooden rifles. 

In some ways, marching bands are anachronistic today. The frozen smiles and stiff-legged choreography of these bands harken back to a 1940s Esther Williams technicolor movie. The twirling rifles feel vaguely sinister in this post-Sandy Hook era. Yet they hold a certain magic, too — a place of innocence and sincerity not found elsewhere in the dystopian world of the modern American high school. They hold a different kind of magic for the kids who participate in this activity.

Along with the A/V club and the stage crew, marching bands have long been safe places for kids like the socially awkward girl, Michelle, from the 1999 cult flick American Pie, who annoys everyone with tales about band camp. The typical participant is not a super star on the football field or in student government. 

Marching bands also draw in kids with various learning differences, including those with high-functioning autism. For these students, marching band is an activity in which they can participate with peers. With its unique combination of exercise, dance, music and rigor, it also may be a place where they heal.

More here.