COVID Classroom

Teachers prepare for a new normal as some students prepare to return to in-person classes next week. Classrooms now include more distance between students, and some include plexiglass shields, among other materials to work to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Before distance learning even began at the end of the spring semester, Candy Brasfield knew it would be difficult for her and her daughter.

Homework for her daughter had always been stressful — the rising seventh grader at Center Hill Middle School has always found math particularly difficult, especially without a teacher nearby.

“She really needs that instruction time,” Brasfield said, noting that professional educators could help her daughter much more than she could.

Now, Brasfield and her daughter are ready for the tears and frustration to end when she can return to school on Monday.

Under the DeSoto County Schools back-to-school plan, parents have the option of sending their children back to schools for in-person classes or keeping them at home for distance learning. The plan features a more refined distance learning program as well as guidelines for in-person classes, such as social distancing when possible and strongly recommending masks. The governor’s new mandate requires masks be worn by all school faculty, staff and students. 

Brasfield, who runs a small business as a photographer, said she had enough daily responsibilities without having to walk her daughter through classwork every day. She “instantly” knew that it was not going to work well.

She would ask her daughter which subject she wanted to start with each day, and sometimes her daughter would not respond at all.

“It was really really really frustrating,” Brasfield said. “When you have a child who has a learning disability, she needs that extra structure.”

Her son, a rising junior who formerly attended Center Hill High School, was able to complete his work at home without much supervision. Even so, he will still be returning to school in the coming days — this year, at a private school in Memphis.

Other parents are not so sure about the decision to send their children back to school.

Ann Allen, whose son is going into eighth grade at Southaven Middle School, said that she will be keeping her son at home for distance learning for the first nine weeks of classes.

“He’s self-learning,” she said. “He’s one of the lucky ones who can teach himself.”

She — like Brasfield — noted that the many different online platforms that different teachers were using in the spring made distance learning much more difficult. Brasfield even switched her daughter to paper packets of classroom material for a while, though she said the logistics of using that material were not much better.

Now that the entire school system is moving to one platform, Schoology, the process should be much easier, both mothers said. Teachers are receiving training on the new platform this week during their inservice time.

“I have mixed feelings [on the plan],” Allen said, noting that she was glad to have the option on whether her children would go to in-person classes or stay home.

He often did one subject each day, and she would sit next to him at the kitchen table to help him when he needed it.

“It only took a couple of weeks to get in the swing of things and come up with a calendar of when we would do things without him getting overwhelmed. I wish I had a picture of it, because it was a sight,” Allen said, adding that she is one of “the lucky ones” who can work from home.

She said her son is happy to stay at home for the first nine weeks of school, saying it’s a less distracting environment and that he doesn’t have an issue meeting his social needs outside of a classroom.

“I don’t trust other people at all,” she said. “People are still dying of something and getting sick, and I’m not taking a chance with my son at all.”

Brasner is not so worried about the return to classes, given the precautions that are being taken. Her son already contracted the virus, following his baseball league ending a week early after his coach tested positive for the virus.

Still, she is unsure of the effectiveness of some of the precautions.

“I can’t see kids sitting there and wearing masks all day without touching their faces constantly,” she said.

Brasner is skeptical about masks working in schools, but said her mind could be changed if everyone wore masks and the number of transmissions dropped.

Either way, she and her children are ready for in-person classes to resume.

“They’re both beyond ready to go back,” Brasner said of her children. “The bad thing about that is they want to go back to school like it was before.”

She said they are looking for a sense of normalcy, though she doesn’t believe that normalcy will exist.

“We can’t hide forever,” she said. “How long is long enough?”

Allen had the opposite reaction to at-home learning from the end of the spring semester.

“If I could do it forever, I think I would. But I don’t know, he might drive me crazy,” Allen said, laughing.

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