Are We There Yet – When Will Schools Be Back To Normal?

How far do we have to go to reach “Normal”?

The last couple of years has been a bumpy ride, for everyone. Masks, vaccinations, closed restaurants, toilet paper shortages, remote work, ships stuck in the Suez canal, droughts in the west, and the earth actually being on fire in the West. It’s a lot to take in for anyone to take. But for kids, it’s worse. It is… traumatic. Adults want to get back to normal, but younger kids never got a chance to learn what normal means. But, we hope, in September of 2022 we’re all going to get a taste of normal when the COVID restrictions are rolled back for the new school year.

Parent’s across America are hoping that we start the new school year just a little closer to “Normal”. Our New Normal… whatever that is. Maybe students can visit their friends again, and have a birthday party or two. Remember field trips? Fingers crossed that museums, libraries, parks, pools, sports events, and other kid venues will be back in full swing. And home can go back to being more like your home, and less like a makeshift school.

How about a New Normal where schools rules don’t change every couple of months, and parents can go back to their old lives? Not all parents were able to transition to remote work. Some have been working around their children’s schedules and have only been able to do “flex-work”, taking part-time gigs like Door Dash or other delivery services.

Some families, with higher incomes or higher-level positions, have been able to reimagine their jobs and work remotely. But what happens to these jobs as the Pandemic recedes? Will they be permanently remote, or will they return to being on-site? Or will the work just go away? Whatever happens, it is sure to cause more disruption for these many of these families.

Before COVID, kids could be unexpectedly absent from school. Little kids often have last-minute emergencies, from a stomach ache to a sleepless night or a problem with their teeth. Or a thousand other little things that need immediate care. Older kids, however, discover truancy. In high school juniors and seniors can yearn for freedom, slip out of school. Besides, even a group of 17-year-olds can blend into a busy city; even if a group of unescorted 7 year-olds can get out of school, they will stand out and, will quickly be questioned.

Student absenteeism isn’t just a matter of children skipping a day or two of school. Chronic absenteeism (missing more than 10% of school days) is both a personal and a school-wide issue. Chronically absent children are also disproportionally poor, often minority, and usually underperform in school. Trauma at home (violence, addiction, abuse), chronic sickness, and other significant issues prevent these students from attending school.

Ironically, students with violence and abuse at home might have once viewed their school as a secure refuge, an escape from their home life. But COVID kept these students locked away at home for two years. Whatever problems these students had before COVID, home trauma may have become far worse. With new rules for “school at home”, and ever-changing COVID protocols, student attendance has been difficult to accurately measure, with reported numbers dramatically rising and falling from one count to the next. According to Bloomberg, school enrollment in New York City has plunged to the lowest level in years.

The budget of a school is based on a number of factors, but the most important is the number of days students attend classes. Every absent day or missing student costs a school some funding. In New York City, a lost student reduces funding by $28,000 a year. Even a single day of absence costs a school $156. Absentee penalties can cost your child’s school hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

That’s a lot of money. More than most schools can afford to lose. Some schools, before the COVID outbreak, already had high absenteeism. It seems inevitable that when schools open in September the pressures of COVID and the stress of re-entering school will boost absenteeism. Add to that the stress that teachers have had. According to a 2022 study by the NEA (National Education Association), 55% of teachers plan to resign, 90% say they are burned out.

The new normal, or at least 2022 normal, may be exhausted parents, traumatized students, and burned-out teachers on the verge of quitting. It’s going to be a perfect storm of problems, and it will probably result in student behavioral issues and more burnout from teachers. It seems inevitable that attendance will be a growing problem throughout the school year.

The last two years have been like a long, long car ride. Later this year we may end up in Normal Tennessee (just outside of Memphis) or we could land in “More of the Same”, USA. Have you already seen signs of stress in your children? Does your school have a plan on how to reintegrate students back into full-time school? Tell us what you’re seeing. And tell us what you think the new school year will look like… we would all like to know what you’re thinking!

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