AUSTIN (KXAN) — Families across the Central Texas area are debating what their children’s school year will look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many want to keep their children at home this upcoming school year and focus on virtual learning, but for some, that option is not possible. For single mother of three, Nicole McNeely, she has to balance work and her children’s education.
Her three children are on three different grade levels, and she said when schools closed for the first time this past spring, she said it was close to impossible.
“It hit me pretty hard,” McNeely said. She said she got COVID-19 in March and had to quarantine at home for three weeks while attempting to teach her children.
For McNeely, school at home brought new challenges and new bills.
“I had to fess up to their teachers and say, ‘Look, I don’t even have internet,'” she said. “I had to pay Spectrum another $50 bill just to get the internet to have my children do their school packets. I didn’t get the big bus that they sent all over Austin.”
She said if the school district decides to move online for the upcoming school year she does not believe she can do it again. McNeely feels she is left with no choice after Austin ISD announced this week it will go 100% virtual for the first three weeks of school. She worries if schools don’t reopen classrooms at all, her children will suffer.
“I am afraid they’re going to get so far behind that when they do go back to school they will have to repeat a year,” she said.
McNeely said she understands teachers are not babysitters, but having her kids in school means she’s able to work at a local restaurant.
“I couldn’t afford after-school care, so I made sure I was off of work by 3 o’clock. I picked them up and put them on the bus and took them home,” she explained.
In Austin, childcare for McNeely could cost up to $200 per child, per month. Multiply that by three and it’s thousands of dollars each year she does not have. She said for her, working from home is not an option.
“I see people who tend to have more privilege and opportunity get mad about things they know nothing about,” she said.
McNeely realizes there is a health risk for her kids, but financially, she said she has no choice.
“Now you’re making me feel bad and throwing these high number of child deaths at me, but I have to take the risk,” she said.
McNeely said she understands why the district is moving classes online, but doesn’t understand why AISD leaders cannot work out a plan for parents, like her, who barely make ends meet.
Workforce Solutions Capital Area can help families in need of child care. Income-eligible families can apply for child care subsidies. At present, there is a waitlist but families are encouraged to apply.