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As Arizona's Online School Year Begins, Some Parents Are Concerned

As the school year begins in Arizona, some parents are sending their kids off to school only figuratively. Some parents are happy with the new online school schedules, while others are concerned about the amount of screen time and their own limited time to help their children. 

Andrea Ayala is a single mother of three, one in college, one in first-grade and one in pre-school. Her first-grader, Tristan, is enrolled in the Tucson Unified School District, which began online classes last week. She says despite live classes, Tristan still needs a lot of parental assistance, especially when there are technological hiccups.

“So he can read a little bit, but he’s 6 so he can’t read ... so when it’s not logging in and he gets a message saying ‘only members are allowed to log into this, blah, whatever,’ he’s not able to read that yet," Ayala said.

Ayala is not alone. Jeanette Rupel is a working mother of three boys, one in fifth grade, another in eighth grade and another in 10th grade. The oldest attends school virtually in Tucson Unified while the two youngest are enrolled in online classes at the Academy of Tucson, a charter school. All three have different online schedules, and her fifth-grader, in particular, needs help because of a reading disorder. Rupel hopes that this year will be easier than last spring.

“Last year, I would have to read him everything they were sending to him. So there is a lot more input at that point, but we’ll see what happens since they only just started," Rupel said.

At the same time, Rupel says she has always been involved in her children’s schooling and she does like what she is seeing so far.

“I worry about my kids being educated enough to keep going. I understand that everyone is going to be in the same boat but I want to make sure that they’re properly challenged and engaged at this time. But so far this year it looks like teachers have learned from last quarter and have started giving more work," Rupel said.

"I worry about my kids being educated enough to keep going. ... I want to make sure that they’re properly challenged and engaged at this time." — Jeanette Rupel

And even though it’s chaotic, Rupel and the other parent, Ayala, both agree that they would rather have their children home.

Rupel says, "This is doable and this is preferable than having someone get really sick and being the cause of someone’s death.” 

Other parents like Christine Gordon are not quite happy with their children’s schedules. She is a mother of two, a kindergartner and second-grader who attend Mesa Public Schools. They are both online from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., except for Wednesdays when they are done at noon. They both have four meetings a day with their teacher, and between that time they are assigned online coursework. Gordon is happy they can do school online, but she says even as a mom who doesn’t work outside the home, the balancing act is hard.

“You’re taking up a six and a half hour chunk of people’s days and it leaves little time to get what you would normally get done while you’re children are at school, whether it’s working, work around your house, errands outside the home. You’re just kind of stuck, especially when they are this young," Gordon said.

And for some, like Ayala’s first grader, Tristan, the periodic breaks aren’t enough, especially when dealing with computer errors.

“By the afternoon, he seemed burnt out by the computer even though he had the brain breaks ... and that had to do, I think, with the district connectivity and just whatever bugs they need to work out. But I saw his motivation really decline," Ayala said.

Tristan's Online School Schedule

Rhonda Hawley is a working mother of four who are 6, 10, 11 and 12-years-old. They also went to Mesa Public Schools, but after assessing the needs of her children and the flexibility she needs as a parent, Hawley decided to home-school. The transition last year into online schooling was difficult for her kids, and she didn’t want them going through that this school year. 

 “There’s a lot of unanswered questions because we’re all figuring this out. And I didn’t want to put my kids through that roller coaster of going back to school, ‘Oh, no never-mind, we’re going to go to distance learning, oh, never-mind we’re going to go back to school,’” Hawley said.

She plans to wait it out and not enroll her kids back in regular school until there is a vaccine. 

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Jill Ryan joined KJZZ in 2020 as a morning reporter, and she is currently a field correspondent and Morning Edition producer.