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State guidance leaves some parents still uncertain about school plans

KARE 11 spoke with four Twin Cities parents about the state's guidance and their plans for their children in the fall.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The state's highly-anticipated guidance on how schools will reopen in the fall leaves the decision up to each individual district. That means many families in the state Thursday were still uncertain about whether their child will have in-person class in the fall. 

KARE 11 spoke with four Twin Cities parents about the state's guidance and their plans for their children in the fall. 

Tonja Henjum

Daughter attends Prior Lake Savage Area Schools

Credit: Tonja Henjum
Tonja Henjum's eight-year-old daughter will enter the third grade this fall in Prior Lake Savage Area Schools.

Henjum's eight-year-old daughter is entering the third grade this fall in the Prior Lake Savage school district. Henjum says her daughter has special education needs, including anxiety and PTSD. Distance learning last spring, she said, did not work for her daughter. 

"Nothing we tried worked," Henjum said. "She regressed so much in all of her progress that she had made in her first and second grade schooling."

Henjum, who is a single mother, struggled to balance work with her daughter's needs. 

"I'm not trained to be her teacher. I'm not trained to be her special ed. teachers and I'm not trained to be her social worker. I'm there to be her mom," Henjum said. "To all of a sudden have to be four, five other people that she needs on a daily basis is unreasonable to ask of anybody."

Henjum is glad the state's guidance requires all districts to continue to offer distance learning. She hopes parents who are able will continue to opt for distance learning, while students who need one-one-one instruction are able to go back to school. 

"For me, safety is not only physical health, it's mental health, emotional health," Henjum said. "Is she getting the hands on help she needs so that she can get the education that all kids deserve?"

   

Cicely Ramirez

Children attend Seven Hills Preparatory Academy, Bloomington

Credit: Cicely Ramirez
Cicely Ramirez and her husband aren't sure yet whether they'll send their two school-aged children back to school this fall, if given the option.

This fall Cicely Ramirez's two oldest children will attend Seven Hill Preparatory Academy in Bloomington, a charter school. 

She's says she is glad the state's guidance leaves control primarily up to each individual district. However, even when her children's school makes a decision, she isn't sure what her family will do. 

"Part of me is like, I want to send my kids to school. I want them to get the social interaction," she said. "[But] part of me is anxious about that, because my son [has] really bad asthma ... so my husband and I are kind of going back-and-forth. Do we send them. Do we not?"

Ursala Pankonin 

Children attend Roseville Area Schools

Credit: KARE
Ursala Pankonin's two school-aged children are in a Spanish immersion program in the Roseville school district.

Ursala Pankonin and her husband would prefer to keep their two school-aged children, entering second grade and kindergarten, home for continued distance learning this fall. However, it's more complicated than that. 

Pankonin's children are in a Spanish immersion program. She values that education, but is worried it might not be offered through distance learning, leaving her family to choose between staying home or staying in the program. 

"If it came down to the risk of my kids becoming carriers and getting other people sick or some of the lingering effects if they were to get sick, and having another language, I wouldn't want them to get sick," she said. "But you just don't know. How great is the risk?"

Pankonin also has to consider balancing her own work as a teacher. 

"As a family, we might be able to kind of juggle our schedules if I were to go into work in the building and my kids were to stay at home," she said. "But I'm not entirely certain that would be an option for us. I mean, we can't hire a nanny."

Layla Nouraee 

Children attend Edina Public Schools

Credit: Layla Nouraee
Layla Nouraee pictured with four of the six children in her family.

Four of the six children in Layla Nouraee's family are in the Edina School District. The oldest attends the University of Minnesota, three are entering the tenth grade, one is entering seventh grade, and the youngest is 22 months old. 

It was a full house for distance learning in the spring, which Nouraee says wasn't effective. 

"I don't think it was anything close to an actual school day ... it encouraged the kids to get distracted much more than they would in an in-person setting, the work rigor wasn't there," she said. "It sort of inhibits the ability for kids to do some of the college preparedness that we value so much." 

Nouraee says she realizes the district didn't have much time to put a plan in place, but she still doesn't want her family to go through distance learning again. She would like her district to choose an option that is "as close to normal as possible."

If that doesn't happen, she says her family might consider hiring a tutor or some other help with school work. 

"Having two parents working full-time from home, I haven't had the opportunity and I won't have the opportunity to be their teacher," she said.