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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

Poway Unified is offering options for the upcoming school year

I like Options; op-ed by Eric Kahnert, parent of 3 young students and News 8 Morning Anchor.

POWAY, Calif. — Ever since the Pampers vs. Huggies debate early on, parents have quickly realized how important it is to have options. Yet most parents never thought we'd have to decide on what our child's school day will look like. We always figured we'd pack up the kids backpack each morning, give them a kiss, and see them later that afternoon.  

Not this year. And potentially not next school year. 

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, schools in San Diego, and across the country, shut down in mid-March. Frantic parents quickly learned the term "distance learning," and how dizzying and daunting the task of teaching your kids at home is.  

It kept some parents from returning to work, and others trying to balance both. Yet, other parents enjoyed the one-on-one time.  

Personally, my house turned into a 3-ring circus. My wife and I had to learn the teaching styles being utilized these days! We often found ourselves tangled in laptop cords, sharpening pencils, and trying to master zoom chats and Google Classroom.

Our days were long and stressful, and the kids were clearly not getting the same in-class experience. At least at my house. But they were healthy at home, and that's what mattered most to me and my wife.

So we, like the teachers, adapted and did our best to keep the kids learning as much as possible. Normally we dread when the school year ends, but not this year. Now that distance learning is over for most districts, the focus for all parents has turned to what the 2020-2021 school year will entail. 

For weeks now, parents have been guessing, predicting, and texting each other both pessimistic and optimistic outlooks.  

"If they shut-down schools again I'm doomed," one News 8 viewer and parent told me. 

Denise, a News 8 viewer and teacher messaged me on Facebook to say: "How are teachers supposed to keep young children separated from each other ... I've heard from my principal that we'll have full class sizes and will not receive any additional monies. Will parents want their children to attend under those conditions?"  

These are valid points. 

As the debate among parents was happening, parents in the Poway Unified School District received an email on Monday late afternoon. The district announced they would be offering both an in-classroom option, and a virtual learning option for the 2020-2021 school year when it begins on August 19th.

You could hear a sigh of relief from North County parents. Some, happy the kids will be out of the house. Others, happy the kids will be safe and sound at home. 

"I think parents are relieved to have a choice, but nervous about making that choice." Christine Paik, Chief Communications Officer for PUSD said.

A few weeks ago San Diego Unified announced a similar plan. Poway Unified’s online plan is called the Virtual Learning Academy, and it's different from distance learning, which was more of an emergency response due to the Pandemic shutdown.

RELATED: San Diego Unified fully launches distance learning for students

"It's daily instruction, a lot of connection for kids and teachers, much more structured," Paik said.

Poway Unified said parents would receive more information mid-July and would have to decide which option around that time. Their decision would be for the entire year, although Paik said changes would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

On Tuesday morning, while reporting on-air on this update from Poway Unified, I gave my thoughts on the district's decision. For me, and my work-life balance, my wife and I have decided we will need to send our 3 children to class. They are now comfortable wearing masks, and they've been taught to be very careful touching anything, distancing themselves, and sanitizing often. I trust them. And I trust our school administrators, and teachers to keep our kids safe.  

Isn't that what we've been doing for decades?

Yes, there will be more challenges for teachers, but the teachers I've come to know, have risen above all of the challenges they've faced. Teachers are superhuman.  

It won't be easy, and it will likely require more funding, planning, and cleaning. Of course a lot of parents still want to know exactly how schools are going to safely distance the kids and what the schedules will look like, but a lot of those guidelines and decisions are still in the works.  

After posting the district’s decision, I received a message from another News 8 viewer.  

On my Instagram page, Amy wrote: "This should be an option for all school districts, especially as we see an increase in COVID cases... Personally, my family can't afford to be exposed. My 90 yr old grandparents depend on us and I work at a 55+ community."  

My reaction to this on-air?  

Even some parents who would like to do the in-school option, cannot because of their personal situation. That's what this is all about.

What works for you? What is the best option to keep your family healthy? What do you feel comfortable with? Keep in mind some districts may only be allowing one option. What if that doesn't work for the parents in the district? A lot of questions still, and the answers are slowly trickling in.

I realize Poway Unified could change its mind.  

Paik also said, "If conditions change with COVID, for example, if schools have to shut down again, we'll have the structure in place to be able to revert back to full virtual for the entire school district."

For now, I'm applauding its decision to offer options.  

Districts are facing some difficult decisions and need to balance safety and a budget. That is no easy task. What works for me, may not work for other families. I get that. I appreciate that. I respect that.  

It's just nice to have options. 

RELATED: San Diego Unified School District meets about reopening plans