Parents are struggling to cope as coronavirus worries shut down schools, leaving kids scared and confused
- Nearly 300 million children worldwide have been dealing with school closings due to the coronavirus.
- The coronavirus outbreak has infected more than 102,000 people and nearly 3,500 people have died worldwide. The US has 17 reported deaths.
- Parents say they appreciate their respective schools' efforts to protect families, but they're also struggling to balance their own jobs with their children's less structured days.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
On the first day of Judah Zmood's quarantine at his home in Riverdale, New York, last week, the seventh grader kept himself busy. He prepared for his bar-mitzvah, studied for a math test, and talked to friends on the phone.
But as he and his family learned more about the coronavirus cases affecting their community, Judah couldn't shake a nagging feeling.
"It's scary not knowing exactly if you have it or not," Judah told Business Insider on Tuesday. "It's the fear of the unknown."
Judah was required to self-quarantine after having attended a bar-and bat-mitzvah celebration in February that a man with the novel coronavirus had also attended. Three of the man's family members also tested positive, including a daughter, who's in the same grade as Judah's older sister, Ella, at SAR High School, a private Jewish school in Riverdale. By Wednesday evening, Ella has been ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days, too.
While under quarantine, they are expected to keep away from other household members and aren't even permitted to step outside to the backyard for air.
Both Judah and Ella have been facing extended school closures as well. SAR's elementary and high school classes have been canceled since Tuesday due to coronavirus concerns, and are scheduled to reopen on March 17. Jewish schools in the Westchester area are scheduled to reopen the same day.
Nearly 300 million children worldwide are facing canceled classes due to the coronavirus
Ella and Judah are among nearly 300 million children worldwide who are currently dealing with school closings due to the coronavirus (the majority are in China). Canceling classes is part of a multi-pronged effort to curb the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 102,0000 people worldwide and killed nearly 3,500 people.
As more cases crop up, more schools in the US will likely shut down.
In Washington state, an epicenter of the US outbreak, all public schools in the Northshore district closed for two weeks starting this past Thursday, a decision that will affect 23,577 students.
Many parents say they appreciate schools efforts to both protect families and implement remote learning opportunities. But they're also overwhelmed.
Parents say they're struggling to do their day jobs while managing their kids' less structured days
While many parents continue to work their regular day jobs, they also have to ensure that their children are occupied at home (with something other than screens), attending online courses, and keeping up with school assignments.
At the same time, they're fielding difficult questions about COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and addressing their children's inevitable disappointments over being stuck at home and having to miss events that they had been looking forward to.
"I just - I can't quiet my mind," Devora Courtney, a Riverdale resident and mother of two, told Business Insider.
Courtney's husband is a college guidance counselor at SAR High School and is under quarantine. But Courtney was permitted to continue working her job as a public high school teacher in upper Manhattan since she wasn't directly exposed to anyone infected with the coronavirus.
Her 8- and 4-year-old children attend SAR and are home from school, but they haven't been placed under any other restrictions.
"There's just been so much information coming at you. Everyone's trying to process what's happening and think about what's best for the community, what's best for their families, how can they help and when school will open again," Courtney said. "That definitely takes a mental and emotional toll."
Many schools are continuing to hold classes remotely
Shuttered schools in the US are rushing to test out remote education options, using meeting apps like Zoom.
In New York, classes consist of a combination of live classes and emailed assignments.
"The teachers understand the burden on the parents," Weinberg said, "and aren't expecting the parents to be at the children's sides all day."
In well-off communities like Westchester and Riverdale, most homes likely have access to a computer, which means there's a level playing field among students. Families there are also likely stocked with a sufficient amount of food. But in lower-income communities, there are concerns around how students will keep up with courses if they don't have a computer and how students will access meals.
In the Northshore school district in Washington, for example, 14.8% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
As schools navigate these unprecedented issues, parents say they're also in uncharted territory.
"This is not what I ever thought I'd be dealing with," said Tamar Weinberg, a resident of New Rochelle, who is under self-quarantine with her four children and husband. "I keep playing the plot of Contagion in my head."
There's the surreal nature of the outbreak, and also the everyday logistical challenges.
In Courtney's home, her children are allowed to go in and out, but their dad isn't permitted to take them anywhere. When Courtney gets home from work at 4 p.m., "around that time where everybody starts to fall apart," she's eager to do an activity with her children. But she also has to first take care of pressing errands, like food shopping and preparing dinner.
Plus, there's the added concern of whether there's a risk in bringing her children out in the neighborhood, which has begun to resemble a "ghost town," she said.
Courtney was able to organize playdates in her apartment building for her kids, which she said was helpful.
Zmood, and other parents in the area, considered quarantining a few children together in one home to help them feel less lonely.
Some parents have continued to schedule playdates, even though they feel uneasy about it
In nearby New Rochelle, parents have also continued to organize playdates, but not without some hesitation.
As of Saturday, there were 89 cases of the coronavirus in New York, and nearly 60 of those cases were linked to one New Rochelle man at the center of the outbreak. Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared a state of emergency in New York.
A New Rochelle mother, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her family's privacy, has continued to plan get togethers for her daughter, whose school is closed, even though it makes her feel uneasy.
"It's scary," the mother told Business Insider. "I hope no one there is sick. But I'm not going to be crazy and say my kids aren't going to play with other kids."
While remote teaching sessions help structure the day, it's also a new platform for the children to get used to. Courtney said that her home needs multiple screens on at once to accommodate the lessons.
Remote teaching tools keep kids busy, but take time to learn
While her 4-year-old may be involved in a 30-minute sing-a-long, Courtney's third grader has to manage a number of assignments, and initially felt overwhelmed by the amount of work.
Weinberg said she feels lucky that her children have enjoyed the online classes so far that they're taking through their school - Westchester Torah Academy - which has also been closed since Tuesday. Her oldest child, who's 10, takes his homework seriously and is usually the first one to "class" on the Zoom program, Weinberg said.
But even once children get accustomed to online learning, they may still struggle to accept the letdowns that come with a prolonged school cancellation. Courtney's daughter had been looking forward to a "Wacky Wax" museum visit that's now been put on hold. Her school closing also coincides with the upcoming Jewish holiday of Purim, when children dress up, sing songs, and celebrate.
"She's just sad and wants to know when [those events] are going to happen," Courtney said. "She's had a tough time with that."
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