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Thinker's Notebook

Quarantine Has Created Possibilities

In New York State, parents of school-aged children had the option to choose if they wanted their children to adhere to a blended schedule for school, or if they were going to do a full remote learning schedule. The blended schedule has the child reporting to the school for instruction on specific days, and learning remotely from home on others, while a full remote schedule is just that, the child is not required to come to the school building for instruction. In NYC, 305,000 children that are enrolled in a NYC public school have opted for full remote learning. That figure represents almost 30% of the children in the largest school system in the country.

Remote working is also a rising trend. Currently one out of every five working adults are working full time from home, and more and more businesses are offering flex schedules to their employees. This new paradigm of kids schooling at home while their parents are working from home is not an anomaly or a temporary fix to the pandemic problem. Studies are showing that allowing your employees to work from home, even if it is just a few days a week, is advantageous to both the corporation and the worker. Corporations stand to save on average $11,000 annually per telecommuter, and companies that allow telecommuting experience on average a 25% lower employee turnover rate. Employees are reporting that telecommuting has a direct positive reaction on work stress, and employees also save money on transportation and amenities by simply working from home.

With remote work and remote school becoming the new archetype, parents and students alike are finding that they are no longer tied to their hometown to attend classes or work meetings. We can now work or be educated from anywhere that has WiFi, and that means literally anywhere on Earth.

Take TaNesha Barnes for example. The Founder of T. Barnes Global Travel was dismayed with America on many levels – the pandemic, the racist ire, the politics – it was all becoming too much to bear. So she called on some connections in Tulum Mexico and created the Black Freedom Colony. The Black Freedom Colony is a haven for Black Families that have the freedom of remote work and education, and the desire to unplug from the ills of America, all of them. Dozens of Black parents and children are renting apartments in this commune and are enjoying an alternative experience to surviving in the States. The kids spend their mornings being educated, and their afternoons frolicking on a beach or traversing a waterfall. And the parents adhere to the same schedule; work in the morning and exploration of self and family by afternoon.

Barnes sees this quarantine for what it really is, a blessing and a challenge to rename normal for herself and her daughter Solana. She says, “Covid and quarantine has given many Black families the blessing of a pause that they may never get again, a pause they may not have even allowed themselves to consider that they needed. When the idea that Black folks working twice as hard translates to having very limited time with partners and children, quarantine may offer just what Black people needed to reset our communities and family relationships. When else can we pick up our Black babies and live anywhere in the world (that will still take us) and slow down long enough to even be present enough to witness what our children are being taught. Or better, re-imagine how we might take control of our Black children’s learning again all together. I personally could live without teaching teachers how to be inclusive of my child’s unique experiences. I am enjoying watching my child engage the world, the countries we are living, their culture, traditions, language and food. As far as I am concerned we never have to return to what the US was offering. Watching her experience her whole self outside the limited perceptions of her humanity will make me forever grateful for this global pandemic.”

Meanwhile, school districts across the nation are struggling to figure out how to pivot in this new environment, and some are lashing back against parents who’ve physically pulled out of communities while the children are still enrolled in the schools there. Last week, a school district in Central New York announced that two students were being “kicked out” of the school district because they’ve been remote learning from Missouri. Jeffrey Emmette and his three sons have been on an extended visit to his sister’s home in Missouri since August. Two of his children are in grade school and have been remote learning since the school year began. Jeffrey recently informed the school district that his family will not be returning to their community until the end of the year, and that he had been renting out his home when possible through AirBnB. The school district has chosen to remove the boys from their school, citing that Jeffrey’s admission that he is renting out his home is proof that his intent is not to return. The young Emmette boys have been given October 23rd as their last day of school.

Telecommuting certainly opens the globe up to families. What is to come in terms of employment and education must be a balanced combination of all of the good that worked in the past met with new vision and insight as to how to move into the future. Our school system and our workforce have to be moved into a new pattern, or face the possibility of becoming obsolete. In the meantime, kids should be able to attend school in a way that best suits the parents and the child, not what best suits the school district. After all, this pandemic isn’t the children’s fault.

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