Monday, May 11, 2020

An open letter to WCPSS and NCDPI re: resuming school in July

Dear WCPSS and NCDPI (and all other involved parties),

I'm a parent of two boys in the WCPSS school system in the 2nd and 4th grades. I greatly appreciate everything everyone has done to get remote learning up and going -- that was certainly no easy task. And our teachers are rocking it! (I'd love to say we at home at rocking it, too, but we are doing our best with two full-time working parents plus a preschooler under one roof.)

This has all been hard. And more hard decisions lie ahead of us. No one knows 'the' answer. And the next few weeks, month or even two may make decisions for us.

But today, now, nearing the end of our school year as the state is opening back up -- I am terrified to send my boys back to school in July.

Let me first preface all of this with a few things --

  • Myself and all three of my sons are immune compromised with an underlying condition. Will it impact us if we contract COVID? No one knows for sure. Even if we did not have this condition, my concerns below would remain the same.
  • One of my sons also has food allergies (also an immune response) and a biologically small airway leading to frequent reactive airway issues. He has nightly nebulizer treatments to try to reduce impact and we keep steroids in the house because of how often we've needed them. I'm worried, because I should be as his mother.
  • This same son has an IEP. I won't go into his personal details beyond saying, I understand the benefits of having him in a classroom and his mom not being the authority figure overseeing his learning. He would benefit from (and love) the socialization and his routine and accommodations.
  • That said, the classroom (specifically, the presence of his allergens) is also a source of his extreme anxiety (which you can read about in previous posts) that brought us to the position of needing an IEP. For this one, he's in a much better place at home. 
Back to being terrified about our WCPSS modified calendar start date in July --
  • How is this even on the radar? I know teachers and the system need to plan but how can anyone plan right now? When we don't know what we are planning for? We can't gather in groups of more than 10 (in Phase 1 of reopening), we don't know when/if we'll get to Phase 2 and a school is most certainly a group of more than 10. 
  • I, as a parent, do not feel comfortable sending back my children at any point during this pandemic without a full time nurse and a full time psychologist on staff. The reasons should be obvious.
  • I've read about possible recommendations of splitting the classes to better socially distance, and only going to school on alternating days. If this ends up being a solution, how do you explain this to children? Is recess taken away? They can see their friends but not touch them? Can you imagine the stress this adds to teachers and staff? What happens when some kids are told more about the pandemic than others and information is spread? Can you imagine what a child is thinking and feeling during this? How will this impact them emotionally, mentally and educationally? It's hitting us as adults just masking up to venture to the store and watching our every move. But for kids? All day long? That is hard to fathom.
  • Will temperatures be taken before entering the building? Do we all realize that having a fever doesn't necessarily mean anything when it comes to this virus?
  • What will be the cleaning procedures/requirements and hand washing procedures/requirements? Are we waiting on other departments for that information? Are you stressing that some students (thousands!) start back in early July? The time to prep is now.
  • How will it be handled if a classmate, or even a schoolmate or staff member, tests positive for COVID? Will we be informed? Quarantined? Punished if we choose to quarantine? Punished if ongoing cases lead to weeks upon weeks of keeping our child home? 
  • How will it be handled if a family member of a classmate or schoolmate or staff member tests positive? Will we be informed? Quarantined? Allowed to quarantine without punishment? Etc. 
  • Regarding privacy laws, will we even know if someone's family member is sick or tests positive? 
  • Could our child be exposed to an asymptomatic student without our knowledge?
  • What about those who are sick and are not able to be tested due to lack of testing, limits on testing or inability to get tested? We will know nothing of them, right? 
  • And in the case of our school, which has open classrooms for each grade level, there is another level to consider. To my knowledge, we are the only elementary school in WCPSS set up this way. And, when working on our 504 plan for food allergies, it seemed many at the county level were not aware of this shared space. So, while we may split classes (as an example), our students are still in one large classroom subdivided into three class spaces. There are not four walls and a door around our classes. How does that change approaching safety at this time? Has anyone even thought of this since we are such an edge case? 
The lack of COVID testing, time for results, tracing, proper cleaning requirements and a giant question mark over the short amount of time before we are to enter those school doors are issues of such magnitude. Ones that I'm sure you are thinking of, discussing and many that you have no control over. I don't envy anyone that has to make the call on school starting back. Or to find the answers or best guesses.

There are so many parents that need schools open so they can get back to work and provide for their families. There are also so many with fear and concern about opening schools. And there are a million question marks that I, as a parent, have before I feel comfortable sending my children - my everything - back into a classroom environment. 

We miss school. We miss our school family. We miss our teachers. We miss normal. We best learn the way we have always learned until this time. 

But above all of that, we need to be safe. We need to look at the facts, research, models, reports and genuine concerns surrounding the giant leap of opening up schools. 

For me, as a parent, I'd greatly appreciate as much transparency as you can possibly give us during these next months. And I will assume the same is true for most others. Tell us what you are considering. Tell us where the pain points are. Let us help push for funding, answers, supplies, support. Ask us our thoughts. Send out a giant poll. Talk to us. Open up the communication as much as possible.

Who makes the final call? The NCDPI? WCPSS? Is it related to any county COVID outbreaks? I honestly, admittedly, have no idea and my exhausted brain can't tackle figuring that out at this moment. But transparency, transparency, communication, communication -- crucial.

We value our children's education. But we value their lives and the lives our friends and family more. And right now, and for the foreseeable future, there are too many gaping holes of uncertainty for me to feel an ounce of confidence starting school on schedule in July. 

I feel it's necessary to say again, an enormous thank you to those who have worked so hard to keep my boys learning remotely. What you have all accomplished is phenomenal. You are heroes. 

Now, the time has come for us to think long and hard about what comes next. So we can all prepare, as best we possibly can. We're talking about our kids here. Our future. Our world.

Kira Kroboth

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Lessons. Compassion. Faith. Fear. From a food allergy mom to everyone else out there during the pandemic.

We're a food allergy family. (Peanut and tree nuts, specifically. Plus four of the five of us have celiac disease just to make it all more interesting. Read: Challenging and immune compromised.) But as a food allergy family, we've trained for this. The pandemic. Sort of, not really. But yeah, sort of. 

It's not because we want to be the experts on food allergic reactions for our family's safety, or choose to, but because we must. Our son's life depends on it. We've kept him safe for eight years now. And I'm so thankful. And pray we can keep it that way.

Not to make light of the COVID-19 pandemic by making a direct comparison of the horrendous virus ravaging our world with that of food allergies. But there are so many similarities. I've found myself thinking of them each day, hoping that the compassion we all need to show to each other now and the precautions we need to take will somehow help others understand our world. This high-stakes, high-anxiety food allergy world. 

Regarding COVID-19. I'm terrified. How can a parent not be? Or a child? Or a sibling? Or a human? We all need to pay attention, practice whatever faith we believe in, listen to the directions given to us and try to not spiral into fear. 

But gosh, if coming out of this more people understand why we, as food allergy parents, do what we do for our kids - then I'm thankful. If coming out of this more people understand why kids, as food allergic children, have anxiety and are afraid and feel isolated - then I'm thankful for that, too. 

For now, I find myself grateful that our usual supplies for cleaning, wiping, washing, sanitizing are already in our home and I'm not out desperately searching. I'm thankful in some twisted way that this has brought our kids home to us for a while. That this safe space can be just that - safe - as far as the anxiety and food allergies are concerned. 

This pandemic has made it really clear to me - as I'm paranoid of everything I touch - when I leave our home (more so than usual) that this, this, is how my child feels. Every. Day.

He feels afraid of his classroom and the allergens around him. He understands the residue that can live on surfaces. He knows the cafeteria is full of something that could kill him. And that, translated to this situation, has hit me hard as a mom. No child should feel what we are all feeling now. 

But, the bright side, because I'm practicing finding that during all of this - I've trained for this. We, as a family, have trained for this. Not directly, but in so many similar ways:
  • Wash your hands. Thoroughly. Often. Everyone. 
  • Use sanitizer. As need. A lot. When you can't wash. Or do both! (Note: Immune system being impacted increases chance of food allergic reaction. But sanitizer doesn't remove allergens.)
  • Wipe surfaces with something that will clean. Really clean.
  • Be cautious of everything. Residue or invisible danger, can be anywhere.
  • Keep. Washing. Your. Hands.
  • Don't touch your face. (Note: The eyes, mouth and nose can trigger an allergic reaction if you have your allergen on your hand.)
  • Be alert to those around you and their behavior. Think of how it may impact you. 
  • Pay attention to your body. Tell someone if something feels off.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help, even if it means something scary is coming your way (i.e. the Epi Pen).
  • Prepare to be isolated. Feel left out. Watch from a distance. Sometimes, it's necessary for your safety. 
  • Practice love and compassion for others. Remember you are strong despite this. They may not understand, or they may need your help, too.
  • Try, oh please try, to not let the fear overtake your mind and your amazing ability to be happy and carefree. But, we understand if it does. Because it is scary.
  • Stay on guard. Always.
One big difference that I pray to be true is that while we will have these life-threatening food allergies in our world for life, COVID-19 may go away. I just pray it can and it will. Or we find a treatment. And soon.  

Now and in the future, just remember that all the precautions you are taking to keep your family safe during this pandemic is an ordinary day for some of us. The fear I feel going to pick up food for these three boys is what my child feels daily at school or out and about. 

That thought hit me like a brick. And it should hit you the same, now. Now that maybe you can understand a little better.

We must slow the spread of this deadly virus. We must also practice faith and compassion. Learn from this experience. And above all, love each and every moment you have with each other.

Stay safe. All of you. 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

WCPSS still cleaning tables with water... update and TAKE ACTION

I just watched the end of the live press conference from WCPSS about their plan and preparation in light of everything going on with the potential of coronavirus reaching our nation/community. I won't say I heard anything that gave me any indication they had an actual plan, but that's just my opinion.

But I did see others commenting on both WRAL and WTVD's live feeds on Facebook about the water-only cleaning policy in WCPSS. Which brought this all back to mind - - again. We are seeing so much flu right now. Add in this coronavirus fear. All of the CDC warnings and government and media updates. Not to mention other sicknesses that spread this time of year, too. And yet, WCPSS still has the policy to clean their cafeteria tables and classroom surfaces with water only -- until children are out of the space for the day or for 30 minutes drying time.

I feel like I've talked this subject to death in my brain and on so many community posts. The fact is, I don't know the solution to what they need to use to clean. I don't know how/if they need to adjust the schedule in the cafeteria or after snack in the classroom to allow for proper cleaning. I don't know what product is best. I'm not an infectious disease expert and I'm not an employee of the WCPSS Health Services team. The task for a solution likes with them seeking input from experts (which are a-plenty around our area) and fixing it.

I sure hope and pray it doesn't take an outbreak of this new virus to make them change. Because it should have happened already. They continue to ignore our petition after I presented it to the school board and media has covered it repeatedly. I don't see them changing a thing unless the CDC or government requires them to do so.

Here's what I know from recent conversations with the Wake County and NC Health Departments that oversee food and cleaning regulations:

  • Wake County Health Department abides by regulations passed down from the state.
  • The state has strict cleaning procedures in place in daycare facilities, but made the call somewhere along the way that once kids reach kindergarten their immune system is robust enough that they can step out of that area of regulation.
  • Regulations WCPSS must follow only apply to food prep surfaces, or where food makes direct contact. (I'd argue there's direct contact all over these tables. They are kids. But, I digress.)
  • WCPSS would NOT be doing anything against regulations if they went ABOVE what the state/county have in place and clean/sanitize the tables or desks. The only have to follow directions stated on the cleaning solution. 
  • Schools (some) are cleaning tables. This is an administrative decision at their school. And they are not doing anything wrong by law. Kudos to those administrators!
My understanding after conversations I've had -- WCPSS can allow for cleaning, be it soap/water, diluted bleach to a safe level, Clorox wipes, baby wipes, whatever. They would not be penalized if following directions on the cleaner.

In my mind, due to flu, immediately get soap/water cleaning and rinsing of the tables in the cafeteria by an adult in place. This is a step above water, for sure. Cleaning has been done in years past before they changed their policy. Go back to their old policy. Research a new one and implement it. Respond to the concerned parents. DO SOMETHING.

The bottom line is, right now, we see press conferences about the fear of the coronavirus. Flu is everywhere. They have so many little lives and families to do our best to protect. And they are failing.

The Department of Health and Human Services states under "How can you protect yourself?" with regards to the coronavirus to:

"Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.

The actions listed above will also protect people against influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other respiratory infections that are common in North Carolina and the U.S. this time of year."

And WCPSS does not. At least not at the times that are crucial -- when the kids are using the spaces. Flu and coronavirus germs can't survive overnight, or usually even after a few hours. So, cleaning after lunch for everyone or at the end of the day is not really doing that much where flu and coronavirus are concerned. 

WCPSS needs to LISTEN to the concerned parents. And TAKE ACTION. Go to their Twitter page. Go to their Facebook page. Tell them: Clean our kids' surfaces with something other than water. Follow DHHS Guidelines. Point them to the petition at Use the hashtag #cleanourtables. 

Make them hear us. 
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