Education

As Iowa City schools start online, parents unsure what to do with their kids

Dani Cosner (right) with her son, Isaiah, 9, and daughter, Brooklyn, 12, are photographed Sept. 2 at their home in Iowa
Dani Cosner (right) with her son, Isaiah, 9, and daughter, Brooklyn, 12, are photographed Sept. 2 at their home in Iowa City. Isaiah is entering fourth grade while Brooklyn will be a seventh-grader. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Ashley Eichelberger was “crushed” when the Iowa City Community School District announced students would start classes virtually for the first two weeks of school, wondering what she was going to do with her first-grade daughter while she was at work as a clerk at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

“There’s no way I can be home with her,” Eichelberger said.

She had enrolled her daughter, Hannah Ernst, 7, in the hybrid learning model at Hoover Elementary School. Hannah would attend school 50 percent on-site and 50 percent online. When she was learning virtually, the plan was for Hannah to be at Kids Care in Iowa City, where she had been going all summer.

While the day care had a plan for taking students during their 50 percent online time, they weren’t planning on taking students whose families chose the 100 percent online option.

Even if Kids Care is able to take Hannah every day, Eichelberger worried about the additional cost.

“I’m going to have to pay someone more than I had budgeted for, and I don’t know how I’m going to do it,” Eichelberger said.

Iowa City students return Tuesday to their first day of school, but virtually only for now. The district received a temporary waiver for two weeks of online instruction from the Iowa Department of Education as coronavirus cases skyrocket in Johnson County. The district plans to ask for another two-week waiver from in-person classes.

Almost 15,000 students enrolled in the Iowa City district this year, 55 percent in standard enrollment, which is whatever learning model the district is in, and 45 percent in online-only learning.

Now with all students starting school online, Eichelberger and other working parents are left unsure who will watch their children during the school day.

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“The school district has not said what they expect working parents to do,” Eichelberger said. “People who are really fighting for online (learning) are the people who have the ability to stay home with their kids, and they’re not thinking about the parents who have to work.”

Parents in the Iowa City schools are torn between worrying about their children’s health and their education and social-emotional state after being out of school for almost six months.

Dani Cosner is in a similar situation with her two children — Brooklyn Cosner, 12, a seventh-grader at South East Junior High, and Isaiah Cosner, 9, a fourth-grader at Schimick Elementary School.

Brooklyn is enrolled in online learning, Isaiah is enrolled in the hybrid learning program, but they will both start school online for at least the first two weeks.

Dani Cosner is taking six graduate school classes at the UI for a master’s degree in social work and has a part-time job at an assisted living facility.

Although Dani said she is “completely overwhelmed,” she doesn’t think it’s fair for teachers to have to go back to in-person teaching and potentially be exposed to COVID-19.

But managing her children’s online learning is going to take a lot of time, she said.

“I’m really hoping after a couple weeks they will get the hang of doing it on their own, but the reality is when they’ve had online assignments before I have to make them do it, make them pay attention and make sure they’re logged in,” Dani said.

“I’m hoping it’s engaging enough to keep their attention,” she said.

Cassie Walizer’s daughter, Maddie Walizer, 5, is starting kindergarten at Kirkwood Elementary School. She hose hybrid learning for Maddie, hoping other parents would choose online learning and the hybrid model of 50 percent in-person instruction would reduce class sizes.

“It felt like a gamble in some ways,” she said.

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Now with school starting online, she and her husband are sending Maddie back to day care where a teacher will help her with online learning.

Paying for additional day care will change the family’s financial priorities, Cassie Walizer said.

She is sad about the disruption in her daughter’s learning, and is focusing on reading and math at home.

“I’m trying to make it sound as normal as possible and be comforted that she doesn’t know any different,” she said.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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